That'll be the Day

November 24, 2016 22:50

Barely a month goes by without someone asking you to commemorate special days or weeks. Did you know that this this week happened to be "Food Allergy and Intolerance Week"? or that February begins with "National Bramley Apple Week". Among my favourites are the "International Talk Like a Pirate Day" and (from America) "National Respect Your Cat Day"

That's the context in which I was initially skeptical about the value of a Holocaust Memorial Day. When you turn such a multi-layered tragedy into a commemorateive day isn't there necessarily a dumbing down, creating a tabloid-style take on it? And doesn't the rital of commemorating it become just that - a ritual that cannot do justice to the enormity of that which it is marking?

But up to now HMD has challenged my skepticism. Because, particularly in terms of local events, the thrust has been to learn form the Holocaust, not to abstract it from history, but to put it back into history and see that some of the mindsets and attitudes, some of the early processes of dehumanisation (well before the industrialised slaughter) have repeated themselves elsewhere at different times and endure in our era too.

Judging by the amount of books on the subject, so much has been said about the Nazi genocide but one of the most profound comments I read was by an Israeli named Boaz Evron. He argued that two tragedies befell the Jewish people in the 20th century "the Holocaust - and the interpretation of the Holocaust". Of course he was pointing to the gulf between those who thought "Never Again" meant never again should this happen to Jews, and those who believe that Never Again should this happen to anybody.

In sub-Saharan Africa millions of people do not reach their 40th birthday - many do not even reach their 5th birthday. This is not because of "natural disasters" but to do with political and economic decisions by governments and multi-national corporations that continue to drain Africa of its wealth, depress the prices of its produce for export (leaving people subsisting on a dollar a day), and maintain an enormous flow of debt payment (and interest payments) from the poorer countries to the richer countries every month.

Perhaps on Holocaust Memorial Day that is something for Jews and non-Jews to reflect on.

If that connection seems too culturally and geographically distant, here is another one. Today the BBC refused to broadcast a Disasters Emergency Committee fundraising appeal for Gaza. Sadly, many in our community will applaud this decision and then solemnly observe Holocaust Memorial Day next week.

November 24, 2016 22:50

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