Belfast Telegraph

Just knowing the Holocaust happened is no longer enough

By Jennifer Lipman

The Holocaust is one of those subjects everybody knows about, right? Like the Romans, or Monty Python. You say Auschwitz and it conjures up gas chambers and ominous gates.

The Holocaust is never going to be forgotten. Especially not in the UK, where the horrors the Nazis inflicted are part of our collective memory.

This week marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and the media likes little more than a well-rounded anniversary.

But is that enough? A brutal conflict that engulfed the world and it took a major anniversary to get a conversation going.

Of course, we can't possibly remember everything. Our news agenda is busy enough and it's been an eventful century. All the same, it's worrying, especially when we're talking about the Holocaust. Because remembering in the same way as other historical events doesn't do it justice at all.

I'm not trying to play the "My genocide was worse than yours" card; but this view shouldn't be controversial. The conditions of the Holocaust were unique.

It happened in a supposedly enlightened country under the world's watch and remains inconceivable in terms of scale today.

Just knowing "it happened" and how many people died doesn't go far enough to communicate how the hatred progressed to become mass murder. Likewise, saying "Never again" will never be good enough. Just look at all the genocides that have happened since 1945; a deeper understanding is clearly needed.

I write, as some will undoubtedly point out, as a British Jew, at a time when the security of my community is at the forefront of our national conversation.

As it happens, while I welcome the words of those calling for attentiveness to anti-Semitism, I am wary of overstating the problem.

Britain is far from a hotbed of anti-Semitism and to compare the situation now to the 1930s, as some have done, is frankly insulting. But calling for vigilance in remembering the Holocaust is nothing to do with events in Paris, or headline-grabbing surveys about anti-Semitism.

Beyond the fact that not all the Nazis' victims were Jewish, to treat this week's Holocaust memorial as primarily a Jewish focus risks missing the wider point: what happened before 1945 was an example of humanity at its worst.

For years, we have not had to worry about remembering anything beyond the headlines of the Holocaust, since there were those who remembered the details for us. The survivors who recount their experiences have relieved most of us of this responsibility.

Yet this is the last major anniversary they will share with us and already their numbers are dwindling. It's time to face up to what happens next.

We're already doing the right things. We're making sure schoolchildren are educated and maintaining Holocaust Memorial Day as a national institution.

But we're at a crossroads and what matters is that we don't take these for granted, or assume they are the sole responsibility of historians, teachers, or indeed the Jewish community.

There is a danger that everything in the past is treated the same; that people feel they have "done the Holocaust", because they once studied it at school, or watched a TV dramatisation, just like the Armada, or Henry VIII.

It's fundamental that we talk of how prejudice descended into mass murder, how each camp differed, what cruelties took place and what agreements were made between governments in the run-up to war. Seventy years on, we have to remember that what happened went beyond one leader, beyond one concentration camp, beyond one religion. Just knowing "it happened" isn't enough.

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