LETTER: Take heed of the lessons of history

RE: Rotherham’s Holocaust Memorial Day January 27

I was pleased to see a large headline and photo in The Advertiser about Rotherham’s Holocaust Day Memorial, even if buried away on page 27 and there was an unforgivable omission to mention the Rabbi’s involvement and address.  As a Rotherham resident attending the event, I would like to offer a personal, somewhat different reflection on the proceedings.

For me, the real meaning/value of Holocaust Memorial Day is to celebrate and rejoice in the success and restorative effects of good and hope over evil and despair; that every life/soul matters (as the Rabbi said) whatever their faith, their ethnicity, their colour, their class and their abilities — it is the victims not the perpetrators we remember and honour; that we can all be charitable to each other in our words and actions regardless of our wealth (as the Imam and Vicar said); that we and our children are so lucky to live in a free society with life-affirming values; and that our children and young people are our Hope, Goodness and Treasures for the future.

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And, my goodness, did every one of those children and young people singing of hope and goodness do Rotherham, their families, their schools proud. The St Ann’s junior and infant children had composed their school anthem with the help of a professional composer and had translated different verses into different languages by themselves. Vaniya Farooq’s rendition of the song from Ghosts was incredibly beautiful and mature for an 11-year-old and all the more charming as she doesn’t seem to realise what an incredible talent she has. The Oakwood students’ choice of song was ‘spot on’ and Nic Harding’s original song composed after a visit to Ann Frank’s house in Amsterdam was very moving. My thanks to each of them and the contributors and organisers who’d all put such thought and effort into making it a meaningful occasion.

At the same time, Holocaust Memorial Day is also an opportunity for some quiet, personal reflection that it is our leaders, governments and our own actions, inactions, rhetoric, lies and distortions of faith, ethnicity, colour, ability and power that cause communities, countries and people to blame, turn in and against each other. It is leaders’, governments’ and people’s actions and inactions that have led to mass destruction and mass murder (i.e. holocausts) in World War 2 (six million Jews, 8.5 million Soviets, 1.8 million Poles, 300,000 Serbs, 200,000 Roma, etc), Kosovo (80,000 Bosnians), Rwanda (800,000 killed in 100 days), Syria (300,000) and Yemen (10,000). A staggering 18+ million killed in these conflicts alone as a result of the whipping up of ethnic, religious intolerance and hatred. And, in all of these wars, rape and sexual violence against women and girls is a deliberate weapon of war.

It defies logic that over 1.1 million men, women, and children lost their lives in Auschwitz/Birkenau alone. The reality of that number was brought home to me when I saw their names painted on their cases, baskets, bags, their worn shoes and their small personal items like hair/tooth/shaving/shoe brushes piled high in rooms behind glass screens. Each time, we say ‘never again’. But each time, we tolerate/turn a blind eye to the injustices, we accept without challenge or we add to the blaming comments designed to alienate us from each other, and we watch the violence unfold on our screens safe in the comfort of our own living rooms time and again. Why do we keep doing this, I wonder?

In every single instance, leaders and governments use people’s ethnic and religious differences as a scapegoat to deflect attention from their own failures or to realise their own warped ideologies and thirst for power. And we, the people, either fall for or turn our backs on their rhetoric, distortions of the truth and lies, with dire consequences. Hitler targeted the Jews, the Serbs targeted the Bosnians etc, the Hutu targeted the Tutsi, Saudi Arabia and Iran are fighting a proxy religious war in Syria and Yemen, the Russians and US support opposing sides in Syria.

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We blame the EU for the demise of our steel industry when the new British Steel owners have turned in a profit and Germany has throughout this entire period maintained a viable steel industry by investment and up-skilling its workforce. We blame the EU and immigrants for preventing our governments from doing the things they need/want to do, taking 'our' jobs, houses, school places, GP/hospital appointments and depressing our wages when it is employers who choose to recruit abroad, fail to invest in British workers’ training, keep wages low, pay too many women less than their male colleagues.

When it is successive UK governments who allow employers to do this in contravention of existing UK laws; who choose not to invest sufficiently in our industry, physical and social infrastructure, skills and housing, yet can afford to bail out banks, incentivise private builders/buyers, spend billions on a succession of costly education, NHS, social security, social care reforms to satisfy each new government/new minister's vanity — with limited positive impact. And it is successive UK governments that decide so many of the other things that directly affect us like income/corporation tax and national insurance rates, benefit rates, minimum wage rates, non-EU migration policy and, that decided not to use of the EU 7 year transitional restrictions when Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007. Where does all that 'blame' properly lie, I wonder?

More recently, President Trump blames Mexico for the loss of US jobs, when it is motor manufacturers etc who chose to up sticks and move there. He's imposed a 90 day ban on nearly all travellers, a 120 day ban on all refugees (an indefinite ban on all Syrian refugees) from seven Muslim-majority countries including Iran, but not Saudi Arabia, the other key Middle East religious/ethnic protagonist in the Syrian & Yemeni proxy wars. Although Saudi Arabia was the home of Bin Laden and 15 of the 19, 9/11 hijackers; and not Egypt the home of the tactical leader of the 9/11 attack and the home of Bin Laden’s deputy; and, not Turkey although the US state department issued a recent warning that Turkey's increasing anti-US rhetoric presented a potential threat to US citizens travelling there.

Where is the logic in those exclusions? Might they be more to do with his family’s business interest in these countries? And, where is the imminent danger to US citizens if it takes an average seven-eight years for refugees from these countries to clear their more stringent US vetting and when, in the last decade, around 280,000 Americans were shot dead compared to 24 killed by terrorist — on US soil?  

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Perhaps we all need to shout and twitter less, look a little more widely and carefully at a range of evidence, take heed of the lessons of history and reflect a little longer and value each life and soul more carefully?

Christine Peters