Holocaust Memorial Day 2018

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Tomorrow is Holocaust Memorial Day. Because of that a lot of HMD events are organized these days all over the world. The National Scottish Memorial event was organized by Interfaith Scotland on Wednesday. It was a successful, moving and dignified event. In the centre of the evening we heard two stories about the Russian city Rostov-on-Don. We heard about how the Nazis massacred the Jewish population with mobile gas chambers. We heard also how Feodor Michalichenko a young man, saved and protected a young boy (7 years old), who later became the chief-rabbi of Israel, in the Concentration Camp of Buchenwald. We saw a drama and listened to music performed by Glaswegian school children. We heard from young people about their trips to Auschwitz and Rwanda. The First Minister of Scotland, the Lord Provost of Glasgow, the chair of the national Holocaust Memorial Day Trust were involved in the programme as well as Holocaust survivers, guests from Rostov-on-Don, representatives of the different victim groups in the Holocaust and representatives of Scottish Jewish communities and other faith communities.

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I have to admit before the event, especially in the beginning of the planning from September onwards, I was a bit sceptical, if it was possible to have this kind of event with so many involved groups in a dignified way. My fear was that I, as someone who was raised in a country where remembering the Holocaust is very present in the political and social discussions, might have different expectations about a Holocaust Memorial Day event, than people outside of Germany. About some of my thoughts I wrote in this blog in my article from 8th September 2017. In the end I was satisfied with the way how the event went.

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There is only one question I have very ambivalent feeling about: Is it right to remember “subsequent” genocides together with the Holocaust?

On the one hand I totally agree that every genocide is horrible and worth remembering. For the person who is shot to death I might not make a huge difference if they were killed by a German, a Cambodian or a Serbian soldier or if they were killed by their neighbour in Germany, Dafur or Rwanda. Everyone in the world should know about this genocides and everyone should work hard so that this list doesn’t become longer and longer. So again it is definitely worth and important to remember all the different genocides and maybe it is an mistake (but even understandable) that German remembering culture is so concentrated on remembering the Holocaust.

But there are three questions that make me doubt about combining the remembering of the Holocaust with the remembering of the “subsequent genocides”.

  1. Isn’t the Holocaust a singularity?

From my point of view this question must be answered yes. Not only is the total number of victims higher than in the other remembered genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Dafur. From everything I know the other genocides (and that might be much to little in the end) the highly industrialised way of organising and conduction of the killing in Nazi Germany is a significant difference to the other genocides. Where else did such a bureaucratical way of killing millions of people exist?

  1. Does remembering the Holocaust together with other genocides relativize the Holocaust (and the other genocides)?

In Germany the persons who say “Well there were horrible genocides in other places in the world as well” have usually a right wing (extremist)/neo nazi background. Those voices come often together with appeals to change the remembering culture away from a focus on the German guilt towards a more patriotic/nationalist view onto German history. This relativistic attitude is very dangerous and even, when I don’t believe anyone at the official Holocaust Memorial Day event in Scotland or somewhere else in the UK has this attitude, there is the danger of seeing the Holocaust as “just one of many bad events in history”. And even if the remembering is done in a way that doesn’t relativize the Holocaust I see the danger of relativizing the other genocides. The Holocaust with it’s millions of deaths and the different groups of victims (besides the genocide of the Jewish population, there were persons with disabilities, LGBT, Roma and political opponents of the regime killed) looks always larger than the other genocides and it could make people think about Bosnia, Cambodia, Dafur or Rwanda: “Well at least it was not as worse as the Holcoaust”.

  1. When remembering genocides why only “subsequent” genocides?

Of course not every killing of people fits the official criteria of a genocide and not always is it easy to draw the exact line between a genocide and other crimes of mass murder. But there other, at least “genocide-like”, events which happened before the Holocaust. One example are the crimes of the Germans against the Ovaherero and Nama in Namibia between 1904-1908 – already with Concentration Camps and the death of half of the population of those two people. Another example would be the crimes against the Armenian population in the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1918. Other examples could be the killing of large parts of native populations in the Americas and other parts of the world during the age of colonization.

Because of those three questions I still have my doubts whether it is good or not to combine the remembrance of the Holocaust with the remembering of the different genocides. But in the end it might be much more important that those events are remembered than the question if they should be remembered separately or all together.

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Remember, Remember …

When I wander through Glasgow I see places of remembrance all over the city. Especially soldiers from the World Wars have their monuments on many places – often marked with the symbol of the poppy. There are a lot of War monuments in Germany too, with long lists of names. Maybe I’m wrong but when I see the monuments here I have the feeling that people here have a more positive attitude towards their fallen soldiers, than in Germany. The monuments speak about them as heroes, who served their country bravely. This experience makes me thinking about remembering and remembrance culture today.

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On Monday people in the United States but also in Europe and in many other countries will remember the terror attack of 9/11. I assume everyone – at least in the Western countries – who was old enough in 2001 is remembering what he or she did the day when the planes hit in into the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. People will remember the victims with religious services, with silence and tears. The terror attack on 9/11 and all terror attacks before and after this date are awful and turned innocent people to victims of violence.  It is good to remember them – especially for all the people who lost people they loved. But I’m also afraid of this remembering culture, especially if the actual US president is going ta talk at this day. Will he use the victims to produce more hate and violence? And who is remembering all the (innocent) victims of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which followed 9/11? How can people or states remember without producing more enemies?

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Von UA_Flight_175_hits_WTC_south_tower_9-11.jpeg: Flickr user TheMachineStops (Robert J. Fisch)derivative work: upstateNYer – UA_Flight_175_hits_WTC_south_tower_9-11.jpeg, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11786300

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About one week ago I participated at the first planning meeting for Holocaust Memorial Day 2018. The official Scottish event for this Day is going to be held in Glasgow this time. The planning was good and I’m sure it will be a good event. Some days later two friends from Germany visited me in Glasgow. I told them about Holocaust Memorial Day and they were very surprised that this day is not only about remembering the Holocaust but also about remembering different other genocides, eg. in Rwanda or Bosnia. Our shared feeling was that it is very difficult to do so, because from our (German) perspective the Holocaust is different. We could not imagine that Jews would accept that the Holocaust is compared or put on the same level as other historical occasions. For me and presumably the most Germans remembering the Holocaust means remembering it as a singularity, it means remembering the German guilt, it means especially remembering the suffering of Jews, even if also Disabled, LGBT, Roma and Communists were killed in the Konzentration Camps. It means that no other occasion in history is comparable with it and it means to do everything to prevent that such things are happening again.

For me it’s interesting that people in Scotland can have a more general look at the Holocaust. I’m completely convinced that the victims of Screbrenica and Rwanda must also be remembered. But it’s difficult for me to compare their dying to Auschwitz and Buchenwald.

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The Holocaust Memorial in Berlin Von K. Weisser – Selbst fotografiert, CC BY-SA 2.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12313104

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The 11th September is a special day of remembrance in my hometown Darmstadt. At night time of this day all church bells in the town are ringing. Not because of the terror attacks in the United States in 2001, but because of the bombing of Darmstadt by the Royal Airforce in 1944. 99% of the city centre were destroyed. According to official numbers about 12.000 people were killed and about 66.000 people became homeless. Remembering this attack is very difficult, because people are aware that without the bombing of Germany cities and towns it would be harder to stop Hitler and the Nazis, but it also might have killed much more people, especially women and children, than might be necessary to win the war. From my point of view a remembrance culture which cries about the victims but is also aware about the responsibility to prevent the world from another World War, another Holocaust or another 9/11 is the only appropriate way of remembering.

Remembering is never unpolitical and we all are responsible for the remembrance culture in our town, country and our world.

What do you think? How do you remember?