Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Holocaust Memorial day - A special day in Barnet

Today is the day we remember victims of the Nazi holocaust. Barnet has the largest Jewish community in Great Britain, largely as a result of this atrocity and the earlier pogroms and other persecutions of Jewish people in Europe. When I attended Orange Hill Senior High School in the late 1970's , the school had a large number of Jewish pupils, many had parents and grandparents with direct experience of concentration camps. Virtually none had families unaffected by the holocaust. Thirty years later many of those parents and grandparents have passed away and the stories move from being a living memory to a page in a history book. Holocaust memorial day is one way that we can remind ourselves of the risks of regimes who seek to divide our communities by race, creed or ethnicity. If the holocaust was the last time that ethnic cleansing was attempted, maybe people could say we'd learned the lesson. If discimination based on faith, colour or creed was a thing of the past we could treat it as a historical anomaly. Sadly, even in Europe, we've seen ethnic cleansing. Even more sadly we still see evidence of anti semitism even in Barnet. Synogogues and Jewish gravestones are often targets of those who seek to turn the clock back and bring an era of hatred back upon us.

When I was 16 I had the pleasure of working with a stonemason who was Jewish and had been an officer in the British army during the second world war. He had been one the first British officers into the Belsen concentration camp. The experience overwhelmed him and he suffered a nervous breakdown. The British army was completely unprepared for the sight that greeted them and they were unable to save thousands of people who they had liberated. The medical teams simply had no experience of how to treat people suffering acute starvation. The SS officers who were captured at the site immediately claimed protection under the Geneva convention. These cowards sought refuge under international law, having violated every law ever written in their treatment of the people of the camp. One of the most poignant things I was told was that for many of those who died, they simply gave up believing even hell could be no worse than where they were. Today on BBC radio 94.9 Vanessa Feltz played an interview by a father who's daughter was savaged by an out of control dog. In Belsen, brutal guards would routinely give the babies of camp inmates to guard dogs to be torn to bits. Anyone who couldn't work was systematically murdered. It is worth remembering that as well as the Jewish population, the disabled, the gypsy's, Homosexuals, political dissidents, and a host of other groups also suffered persecution and murder.

Over a cup of tea in 1977, I was told one thing which I simply refused to believe. After hearing the story of  how my work colleague entered the camp, the stench and the pure horror of what he saw, he said something which seemed completely ridiculous. "Some people are trying to say that none of the things I've told you really happened. In the future as people die off, these lies will be told more regulalry. When the British army occupied the camp, we shot thousands of hours of film, as a record so that the truth of the situation can never be denied, remember this if ever you hear such a rumour".

At the time of the conversation, I was a dyslexic sixteen year old, considering a future working in the building trade (as a back up to my music career). It never occurred to me that anyone could possibly take such lies seriously. It never occurred to me that people would desecrate synogogues and Jewish graves in the London Borough of Barnet. As blogs had not been dreamed of, it never occurred to me that I'd write a blog and anyone would care what I wrote. It never occurred to me that the things I was told over numerous mugs of tea, may be important enough to be retold.

Sadly, the man who spoke those words to me passed away many years ago. With him, the things he saw went. Only the conversations with people like me remain. Those and the thousands of hours of film footage, which serve forever as a reminder of the foul, evil brutality of the regime which perpetrated the crimes. We have holocaust memorial day for one reason and one reason alone. Because we all need to be reminded of the truth of this abomination.

1 comment:

Jaybird said...

My father was also in the first tranche of officers yo go into Belsen. He didn't talk about it much. He just said that they were on the "dash" to Berlin but when they found Belsen they had to stop gor a couple of days.