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Alban Maginness

Why Auschwitz commemoration was a reminder of danger posed by intolerance in the world today

Alban Maginness

The Northern Ireland 'disease' that is sectarianism is simply the flipside of the coin called racism


Poland’s President Andrzej Duda walks with survivors
through the gates of the Auschwitz Nazi concentration camp to attend the 75th anniversary of its liberation

Poland’s President Andrzej Duda walks with survivors through the gates of the Auschwitz Nazi concentration camp to attend the 75th anniversary of its liberation


Poland’s President Andrzej Duda walks with survivors through the gates of the Auschwitz Nazi concentration camp to attend the 75th anniversary of its liberation

Greta Thunberg has, rightly, highlighted the imminent dangers of climate change and has, with impressive passion, shaken world opinion from its delusional state of denial. Rightly, we should take heed of her urgent warnings and take immediate and radical action to prevent or mitigate the consequences of climate change.

However, there is another serious threat to humanity that arises from the changeless human traits of racism and xenophobia that are slowly recreating the pre-Second World War climate of racial hatred and intolerance, with all its abhorrent consequences.

Therefore, the 75th commemoration of the liberation of the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz, on January 27, 1945, by the Red Army was a timely reminder of the pandemic of racism and xenophobia that stalks the world today.

The event took as its motto: "We have a dark premonition, because we all know." It was a profound warning to all of us of the terrible dangers of anti-Semitism and extreme nationalism in contemporary Europe and, indeed, the world at large.

The televised event at the site of the extermination camp was extraordinary. It was both sad and dignified.

But it was refreshingly bereft of revenge and full of hope for the avoidance of a recurrence of such a calculated programme for the complete extermination of the Jewish people, or indeed any other vulnerable minority.

The speakers at the event were former prisoners, who had miraculously survived the unspeakable horrors of the extermination camp.

They repeatedly warned those listening that such unspeakable things could happen again because the underlying prejudice and hatred that vitalised the extermination programme for the Jews still persists and is being actively re-energised in different forms by extreme nationalists and populists throughout Europe.

With the collapse of traditional Establishment parties throughout Europe, populist parties have gained representation and power in different countries, especially in Eastern Europe.

Some of these parties thrive on ancient antagonisms and racial hatred. The current negative focus on the massive increase in immigration, especially of Africans and Muslims, creates popular antagonism towards them and reinforces the seeds of xenophobia and racism.

The established majority populations are made to feel threatened and react negatively in order to defend their own way of life and culture, which they view as being under siege. Their fears and prejudices are cynically exploited by politicians seeking power and position.

No one today can imagine that the awfulness of Auschwitz could ever be re-enacted, so appalling was this horrifying death machine.

But, although that particular camp may not be reinvented on the same scale, or with exactly the same ideological motivation, nonetheless it could be repeated in a different way in our respective societies if we are not vigilant and strong enough to counteract the serious threat of racism.

The reality, of course, is that Auschwitz has, since its liberation in 1945, been repeated on a massive scale in Rwanda and Cambodia.

It has also happened to a lesser extent in the Balkans and, recently, in Myanmar with the Rohingya Muslim minority.

And there are many other examples of concerted, systematic racist attacks on minority communities throughout the world, which were approved by their respective governments.

The fact that they didn't employ gas chambers, or have extensive camps, or prisons, is simply a matter of detail and scale.

The same murderous approach was devised and employed against selected groups on grounds of race or religion and the same attempt to eliminate minority groups was applied.

At home here the evil of racism is a lesser danger than the evil of sectarianism. But, in reality, the Ulster disease of sectarianism is simply the other side of the same coin of prejudice that the world has, rightly, described as racism.

Both sectarianism and xenophobia are founded on historic hatred and intolerance and have had violent and disastrous consequences.

Racism and xenophobia are all fuelled by the same political virus that produced Nazism, fascism and other evil movements throughout the world, that led to the deaths of millions of innocent people. The commemoration was not just an interesting historical event, but a necessary demonstration to a forgetful modern audience of man's inhumanity to man on a massive, industrial scale.

The Auschwitz camp was a well-organised and frighteningly efficient machine, resulting in the deaths of one million Jews and others, like the Roma Gypsies, or Russian POWs, because they were "untermensch", that is, subhuman.

The stark testimonies given by those courageous survivors were riveting, deeply moving and frightening, but without rancour, or hatred.

The Auschwitz experience is a dark reminder of the danger of intolerance in the modern world and it is incumbent on all those in authority to speak out and educate people - especially the young - about this danger in an increasingly fractious and volatile world.

Belfast Telegraph