• A lesson for all mankind

    Mid Devon Advertiser
    06 February 2015

    Last week in Westminster I signed the Holocaust Book of Remembrance to commemorate the murder of around 6 million Jews in one of the most horrific and disgraceful chapters in world history. Invited to write a few words alongside my name I added simply – we will never forget. There have, of course, been many dark moments of the past when the extent of human barbarism has apparently known no bounds. Hitler does not stand alone in the pantheon of depravity – he holds no monopoly on filth. The Soviets murdered in the Gulags, in the forests of Katyn and Stalin’s ruinous agricultural polices saw perhaps 10 million die from starvation. In the second Sino-Japanese war the Japanese massacred 300,000 Chinese in Nanking. It doesn’t take long to find human horrors inflicted by just about every nation on earth – if you set about turning over the stones. The Holocaust may not stand alone in the long story of man’s inhumanity to man yet it has become the most powerful touchstone for our deepest revulsion, horror and self-effacement. Why this should be is partly to do with scale. Perhaps as many as 11 million Jews, homosexuals, Roma and those politically disagreeable to the Nazis were shot, gassed or just starved and worked to death in the camps. At Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland over a million perished. At Treblinka over 800,000. At Sobibor perhaps 250,000. This unspeakable operation throws up so many questions – slaughter on this scale and with such industrial efficiency means that many were clearly actively complicit in it, many others must have just looked away. Some complicity was, no doubt, bred of fear but much through willing and unrestrained engagement. Equally pitiful is the central idea – the belief that a particular race was so inferior and objectionable that it required complete eradication – that not one thread of it should remain. The twisted madness of all this throws up perhaps the most chilling question of all – to what degree are we all culpable? What are we all capable of under particular circumstances? We should never forget the brutal horrors of the Holocaust but we should perhaps reflect more deeply on its lessons - on what it says about us – and what we should guard against. In the world around us as we see much of the same – they change the times and the places but they speak with the same voices. No two lives or acts of horror can ever be perfectly equated and any attempt to do so is meaningless, but all such acts hold to a basic universal truth. As John Donne, around 400 years ago, so perfectly put it ‘no man is an island entire of itself – any man’s death diminishes me for I am involved in mankind – therefore do not send to know for whom the bell tolls – it tolls for thee.” The Holocaust is a lesson for all mankind.