Let's not forget, and repeat, the past - From the Cluttered Desk with Keith Roulston
Last Saturday marked Holocaust Remembrance Day, and seldom since the end of World War II has the world needed such a remembrance day, even if it was 79 years ago, on Jan. 27, 1945, that the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp was liberated.
The day reminds us that, during the Second World War in Nazi death camps in eastern Europe, some six million Jewish people, as well as 500,000 Roma and Sinti people and many LGBTQI+ persons, persons with disabilities and political dissidents were persecuted and killed by the Nazis.
And yet, there’s something in people that wants to forget, even repeat, those experiences. Two weeks ago, mass crowds gathered in Germany bearing signs declaring “Nazis, no thank you” and “It feels like 1933, AfD ban now!” to protest the far-right Alternative for Germany party (AfD) which has gained the second largest party status in that country.
It’s understandable that people want to forget an ugly past. Though I never experienced it, I did watch the 1961 American film, Judgment at Nuremberg starring Spencer Tracy as one of the judges at a minor chapter of the Nuremberg trials of war criminals. The film shows Tracy travelling through the devastation of the city by allied bombers during the war. Near the end of writer Abby Mann’s classic movie, authorities want to shut down the trials because Russia, regretting its agreement to divide Berlin, which was within the area of eastern Germany controlled by Russia, tried to force western countries to give up the city by blockading highways leading from West Germany to stop the Allies feeding the city. The Allies started a massive transport of supplies by air to feed the people.
Russia ultimately gave up the blockade, but built a wall between Russian and Allied portions of the city when so many East Germans, seeking the enhanced lifestyles they could see West Germans living, sought to cross the border to West Berlin, West Germany and beyond.
Years ago, after the fall of Communist eastern Europe, I watched a show of a number of Germans travelling to visit one of Germany’s Second World War death camps. Two of the young men, on the train ride home, were totally devastated by what they had seen of what their parents and grandparents had done.
Meanwhile, in Judgment at Nuremberg, the family hosting Tracy’s judge claims they never knew anything about the mistreatment of Jews.
It’s one of the problems of history. In the U.S. now, people like Ron DeSantis, governor of Florida, seek to shut down special programs that deal with the discrimination against Black residents. The horrors of the Black discrimination lasted until the 1960s when the strenuous efforts of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s under Dr. Martin Luther King and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson broke down barriers.
Movies, TV shows and newspapers used to be the solution to opening people’s eyes to see the injustice of the world. All part of the past. The Los Angeles Times, one of the elite newspapers of the U.S., recently slashed its workforce of reporters in an effort to save money. Locally, many of the newspapers I associated with over 50 years are breathing their last breaths.
Who’s growing? In the U.S., Fox News is attracting millions of viewers who see right-leaning stories on it they didn’t get on regular channels. On the Internet you can choose what news to watch and many ignore true stories, reading instead often-distorted versions of what happened and why.
I remember reading, years ago, of the Flat Earth Society, which had enough members that it actually held a convention. These were people who believed, despite the satellite photos and pictures by space travellers, that the earth is not round, but flat. I just checked as I wrote this, and the group still has a website.
Certainly those who forget the Holocaust have some justification as Israel carries out a devastating war against Palestinians living in Gaza, killing thousands. As months edge by, it’s too easy to forget this whole tragedy began with the brutal slaughter of more than 1,000 Israelis in an October raid and the taking of innocent prisoners by the Hamas terrorist group, which also is the government of Gaza.
One thing that’s common to all these issues is hate. The slaughter of millions in Germany during World War II was based on the mystifying dislike of Jews. The Civil Rights movement was resisted because southern states, though they had lost the Civil War, had established discrimination that meant Black residents had different water fountains and toilets and had to ride in the back of the bus.
“Make love, not war” was a popular anti-war statement from the 1960s, but it still holds true for many of the problems of today. We need to understand, not hate, people.