Next Monday (the 27th of January) is Holocaust Memorial Day. Ask the common man what the most important statistic is about the Holocaust and I bet that you will be met with something to do with the murder of six million Jews. As a Jewish person myself, I am thankful to live in a society where virtually everyone knows about, and hates, what was inflicted on members of my religion. The sense of unification and remembrance that is felt every year should be a source of hope that one day, genocide will end for good.
However, in recent years I have become increasingly aware of a worrying trend in people’s knowledge about the Holocaust. It may surprise you to know that the death toll of Nazi Germany’s actions reached much more than six million. Depending on which study you use, actual victim counts vary between 11 million and 21 million. This surplus over Jewish victims includes the Soviet Communists, Ethnic Poles, Romanis, Freemasons, Slovenes, homosexuals, disabled people, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Spanish Republicans which were also murdered during this period. Whether these killings should be included in the technical definition of the word “Holocaust” is in my view irrelevant. What matters much more than debates about terminology is that millions of people, including but not exclusively Jews, were brutally killed at the time of the Holocaust. Nevertheless, it seems to me that a disproportionate amount of education, discussion and remembrance about the Holocaust ignores this fact.
It must be noted that I do not particularly hold anger towards any individual for this problem. If you have never been made significantly aware of these issues, you can hardly be blamed for not acting upon them. My frustrations are rather with society as a whole for making these omissions.
An example of when I was made particularly aware of this issue occurred last summer, during a tour of Yad Vashem, the “world centre for documentation, research, education and commemoration of the Holocaust.” I decided to ask the tour guide whether there are any parts of the site devoted to non-Jewish victims, citing homosexuals as an example. I was met with looks of surprise and mild irritation, before the tour guide replied that although there are small sections designed for the purposes I had raised, this was primarily a Jewish memorial, so in a word, no. She was later supported in this attitude by one of my peers, who made the case that homosexuality is arguably against Jewish law, making it inappropriate for Yad Vashem to commemorate gay people. This experience left me pretty ashamed that fellow representatives of the Jewish faith were expressing this view, despite the fact that a large principle of Judaism is to “love thy neighbour”. I fear that this is the attitude unfortunately taken by too many of the more conservative and ignorant members of the community.
It is my strong belief that everyone should pay due remembrance to all victims of the Holocaust, regardless of religion, background or circumstance. This Holocaust Memorial Week, I will continue to appreciate the efforts that society makes to remember the lost souls of the Holocaust. I will of course be devoting a lot of my thoughts to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. However, I plan to also spend much of my time remembering all of the other people who fell victim to the mindless persecution that we all know about. My hope is that this year, more people recognise my view and join me in such reflections.