Ahead of his documentary, Touched by Auschwitz, on BBC2 tonight at 9pm, Laurence Rees blogs on why it's important we continue to talk about the Holocaust.
The Nazis wanted to keep knowledge of the Holocaust a secret. We know that from a variety of historical sources, not least Heinrich Himmler’s infamous speech in 1943 in Poznan where he warned other senior Nazis ‘not to speak in public’ about it.
But why, if they thought it necessary to exterminate millions of people, did the Nazis not want to shout about it to the world? After all, Himmler called the Holocaust a ‘page of glory’ in German history – albeit one that was ‘never to be mentioned’.
One practical reason, I suppose, is that Hitler envisaged that knowledge of the Holocaust might cause problems for Germany after the war, once - as he believed they would – the Germans had won. It’s hard to see how relations between Nazi Germany and America, for example, could ever have been normalized if everyone knew that six million Jews had been murdered.
But behind such political considerations lurks a moral reality that must have made the Nazis uncomfortable. Because, ultimately, they needed to keep quiet about the killings because they must have known that other people would condemn them for committing an unconscionable crime; that they would be accused of bringing into the world new knowledge of the depths to which human beings are capable of sinking.
Amongst themselves they could make vainglorious boasts about completing ‘this difficult task’ because of their ‘love’ of the German people, but they didn’t have the nerve to tell anyone outside of their closed Nazi circle. I even suspect, that in the middle of a winter’s night, when they couldn’t sleep, a number of them knew perfectly well that they had done something vile.
So whenever anyone asks me why I think it is vital that we remember the Holocaust and our children are educated about it, I always think first of all that the Nazis wanted it kept a secret.
So, it follows, doesn’t it, that if we tell people all about what they did, then the Nazis lose once again.