Candles at a memorial event for holocaust victims.
#HolocaustMemorialDay 2015: Remember the holocaust
This Holocaust Memorial Day the spotlight is on the worrying growth of anti-semitism in Britain and elsewhere in Europe, where hard right and neo-fascist parties are gaining ground. The attacks in Paris on the Charlie Hebdo office and later at a kosher supermarket are the bloody tip of an iceberg of increasing incidents that have sparked fear and anger in the Jewish community and that should concern us all.
The response of the Western political class to such atrocities rarely involves deeper reflection on their role of intervention in the Middle East, the rise of Islamophobia or the failure to provide jobs and a future for youth, including the poor and dispossessed of the Paris suburbs. Just last year, the housing projects were also the site of a vigilante attack on a Roma teenager, beaten and left for dead in a supermarket trolley near a motorway.
But while, of course, there is a wider context and there are many explanations for the rise in anti-semitism, there can be no excuses. Some seem to forget Pastor Niemoller’s famous poem “First they came…”
The poem was a rallying call against political apathy in the face of the Nazi strategy to pick off one group after another – communists, trade unionists and Jews. More positively, it is a lesson in solidarity. As trade unionists, our everyday work involves resisting attempts to divide and rule working people according to their race or religion, gender or grade, age or the passport they hold. We must raise our voice and stand up against the persecution of minorities, whether that persecution – or simple discrimination – is on grounds of religion, race, sexual orientation or disability. Union support for Hope not Hate and Unite Against Fascism is critical but we also need to do more to educate and mobilise our own members.
All groups who live under the shadow of prejudice have their own different experiences and concerns, and each group deserves our support and attention. Attacks on Jewish communities are sadly not new, and come in many different forms, from physical violence through to the desecration of cemeteries and religious symbols. A more subtle underlying theme is the notion of ‘otherness’, from snide and nasty canteen chat about ‘cosmopolitanism’ to allegations of inherited national disloyalty – the old patriotism test.
Holocaust Memorial Day is, of course, a day commemorating all victims of genocide. The TUC’s LGBT and Disabled Workers Committees will be represented at today’s national event in Westminster. But the diversity of threats should never be a reason to blur our opposition or resolve to tackle oppression against any single group. Nor should it become an excuse for growing governmental authoritarianism and attacks on civil liberties. Ultimately our best defence against oppression and persecution is the practical application of our values of democracy, equality and solidarity, at work and in society, not least through strong trade unions.
When we remember the Holocaust, we must redouble our commitment and our effort. Our watchword: never again.