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Holocaust Memorial Day in an era of resurgent anti-semitism

We are seeing a rise in anti-semitism being used by the organised far right internationally on a scale not seen since the 1930s — which makes the lessons of the Holocaust more important than ever, writes WEYMAN BENNETT

WEDNESDAY sees the now-annual Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) in Britain. When “Camp Auschwitz” hoodies are worn by Trump supporters rampaging at Capitol Hill, the many “be the light in the darkness” themed events for HMD are most timely.

The memorial day is commemorated each year on January 27, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz in 1945. It is critical to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive, particularly when, for instance, the likes of QAnon are so pervasive with dangerous, racist and anti-semitic tropes.

Hungary’s Viktor Orban is one of several prominent European politicians who target philanthropist George Soros in anti-semitic campaigns. From Ukraine to Italy and Poland, the far right use mainstream anti-semitism to gain legitimacy. Only yesterday, far-right populists made serious electoral gains in Portugal. This will boost the far right elsewhere.

The defeat of Greece’s Golden Dawn by anti-fascists shows that entrenched fascist parties can be beaten through a strategy of mass broad and united action. Golden Dawn were challenged and confronted at every step and eventually broken. Greece is a model for how anti-fascists can mobilise large numbers of people and win.

In the Holocaust, the Nazis killed more than six million Jews. Millions of others they deemed undesirable or subhuman were butchered, including Roma, socialists, LGBT+ people, trade unionists, disabled people and many more.

Hitler’s sadistic SS perpetuated a historically unique mass murder. There have been other genocides, but none like the Holocaust. Killing by “assembly line” took place, with the railways directly linked to death camps such as Auschwitz and Sobibor.

Industrial methods engineered the horror, in part facilitated by the use of slave labour by commercial giants such as IG Farben, which had a plant surrounding Auschwitz. Gold teeth were melted down and finance put into SS bank accounts. Hair was shorn off, some of which can still be seen at Auschwitz today. It was then purchased by companies and used in the manufacture of mattresses.

The “final solution,” the plan to exterminate Jews in Europe, saw ghettoes sealed off and numerous concentration camps. A vast killing operation was enacted. Nazi bureaucrats such as Adolf Eichman — business and scientific household names — were all guilty of the most heinous crimes. Localised anti-semitic genocides in Russia and Poland became merged into a huge project. Vile pogroms were many.

Racist ideas need constant challenging. The Holocaust showed what can result from racism being driven by the state, particularly in moments of extreme crisis for governments. Some parallels exist today in the political and economic climate that led to the rise of the Nazis in the 1930s. Eugenics also played its part in SS ideology, and many on the right promote eugenicist ideas today.

There was resistance, such as the Warsaw ghetto uprising, and even inspirational uprisings in death camps including Auschwitz and Sobibor, which drove Himmler to liquidate all such revolts.

To remember what took place, Stand Up To Racism and Unite Against Fascism (UAF) are holding an online event today (Tuesday January 26) at 6pm on Youtube and Facebook. We are honoured to host survivors and their relatives, esteemed authors and activists. David Rosenberg, well-known to Morning Star readers, will speak alongside Lorna Brunstein.

Brunstein’s mother Esther survived the Auschwitz and Belsen camps to become a tireless campaigner with the Anti Nazi League, and Brunstein has spoken powerfully on UAF educational trips to Auschwitz.

Gillian Bessey, whose father helped Oskar Schindler (of Schindler’s List) will talk, alongside Daniella Abraham. The Morning Star carried a hard-hitting interview by Peter Lazenby with Daniella on the fascist terror that has been targeted at her Slovakian Roma counterparts.

Other speakers include Professor Ruth Levitas and Collete Levy, a “hidden child” in Nazi-occupied Vichy France.

Neonazi electoral advances in Europe are linked to anti-immigrant, Islamophobic and anti-semitic violence. The wall by a Jewish cemetery only two miles from Auschwitz was recently desecrated.

Online, despite some deplatforming of sites following the Capitol Hill riots, fascist ideas and organisation remain. The increase in fascist terror and planned terrorism do not operate in a vacuum.

As Esther said, the denial of the Holocaust is the denial of the existence of her mother, father, brother and relatives killed by the Nazis.

In recent years, Muslims and Roma have faced fascist hate, as new communities are victimised by the far right. As open nazis appallingly revel in the crimes of the Holocaust, we hope to make a small contribution to ensuring that Jews are not left to face nazi evil alone.

When we remember the Holocaust, “never again” must mean exactly that.

Stand Up To Racism and Unite Against Fascism (UAF) are holding an online event tonight (Tuesday, January 26) at 6pm on www.youtube.com/c/StandUpToRacismChannel and www.facebook.com/StandUTR/live.

Weyman Bennett is Stand Up To Racism co-convener.

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