Seventy-five years ago tonight our world changed forever. In what was constructed to look like random violent acts, but was actually an orchestra and government endorsed plan, the Jews in Germany were attacked and their premises ransacked. On this night, a night that was to become known as Kristallnacht (meaning Night of the Broken Glass) the Nazi were testing the water, seeing how far they could push their hatred and whether you believe the eventual escalation was planned or not, we all know how it ended.
It is estimated that at least 4 million people died in the Holocaust while the victims were not exclusively Jewish (we must be careful not to forget the other victims- gypsies, gay people, Freemasons, disabled people, Communists, etc) the majority were and we must ensure that lessons are learned from this hatred.
Each year we get further and further away from the Holocaust, and with this it falls further and further into history. History can be a cruel thing at times, it puts distance between us and the past, meaning that it is often hard to understand or to associate with these atrocities. While this is of course unpreventable, we must always remember the Holocaust and do all we can to promote tolerance, acceptance and equality.
Three years ago, as a history student writing a dissertation on Nazi Germany, I organised an educational visit to Auschwitz, an experience I can honestly say that I will never forget. I understand a lot about the Nazi years, but despite my knowledge, I too found it hard to really comprehend what happened all those years ago but this trip entirely changed my perception. I cannot explain to you how big the death camp Birkenau is, it pretty much goes as far as your eyes can see and the feeling of death is ever present. While the size was incredibly hard to take in, the “human” element is ever incredibly powerful, the shoes, suitcases and human hair all making it incredibly real. It baffles me that people still deny the Holocaust, when I have had the displeasure of meeting these such people, I always ask them if they have ever been and their answer is usually no. I then suggest they do visit, because it’s hard to deny it then.
So I was horrified earlier today to read an article on the BBC about anti-Semitism and the awful truth that it appears to be on the rise in Germany once more. I was however relieved to see that the same wasn’t true of the United Kingdom, anti-Semitism is one of the lowest here but that doesn’t mean we don’t have other prejudices to fight.
I have been concerned for a long-time with the continuous Islamophobia that we are seeing in the UK, more now than ever because the racism appears to have gone mainstream. Barely a week goes by without the “burka” debate once again rearing its ugly, prejudiced head, because it is prejudice and we have to make sure that it comes across that way.
Earlier this week I decided to go out with a hat on and a scarf wrapped around my mouth, and no one so much as looked, I wasn’t asked to remove the scarf and no one had a problem with my attire. Then I saw to young girls, walking along, minding their own business but wearing burka’s and almost everyone was looking at them. While the vast majority didn’t look that bothered, the odd few looked really uncomfortable, this is a reason for this attitude.
Unfortunately, largely because of the media, terrorism, sex gangs and Islam have for many people become one and the same, with many believing that they have a “legitimate” reason to fear Muslims in the United Kingdom. The truth is that we don’t. While terrorism is obviously a threat in the twenty-first century, to blame any single group is just completely and utterly unhelpful because with all cultures and religions, there are a minority that will commit atrocities. To say this is unique to any one group of society is completely wrong, and entirely unfair.
I have a habit of getting into debates with members of the EDL on twitter, and they always say the same thing. We can’t be Nazis because unlike them we have a genuine reason to tackle “Islamic” beliefs. This argument deeply frustrates me, because while I am not saying they are advocating any violent actions towards Muslims (some have, but the group is largely based upon intimidation) they genuinely believe that they reasons are legitimate.
The thing is that Britain is a largely tolerant society, and the vast majority are living contently together, but seventy-five years ago when the first official act of Nazi violence took place those people too believed that they had a genuine reason to act that way.
This is why we must counter all acts of racism that we see on streets whether that be too people of a certain colour, or a certain religion because a small and seemingly unimportant act, can escalate into something far worse. Much of it is based upon ignorance, but the better we all live together, the better we will get along. The problem comes when that ignorance is left to grow, because then hatred can grow, and hatred can lead to some awful acts.
My thoughts are with the survivors of the Holocaust and those that lost loved one’s.