Holocaust Educational Trust Chief Executive Karen Pollock MBE was asked to contribute to the Hope Not Hate blog today in honour of Holocaust Memorial Day 2012. Here, we re-post her piece. To learn more about the important work that Hope Not Hate does to mobilise people against the politics of hate, visit their website here.
Even walking around the site of Auschwitz-Birkenau, it’s hard to begin imagining the evil which was committed there or to visualise the sheer scale of what took place. At Birkenau rows of crude huts into which hundreds of human beings were forced, stretch further than the eye can see. The numbers involved are so well-documented that they can almost seem to lose meaning: over six million people killed during the Holocaust, more than one million at Auschwitz-Birkenau alone. The systematic murder of Jews, Roma and Sinti and the appalling persecution of gay people, the disabled, trade unionists and other minority groups. The only way we can begin to comprehend the vastness and depravity of this chapter in our shared history is by focussing instead on the individuals and families whose futures were stolen in the name of a racist ideology.
Looking at the Holocaust through the lives of individuals naturally prompts enormous sadness, yet it also holds a small glimmer of hope, when we learn about those rare men and women who took great risks to speak up and speak out against injustice. Take Sophie Scholl, the Munich University student who as part of the anti-Nazi White Rose movement wrote pamphlets urging others to resist fascism – and who was executed for treason aged just 21. Or Hans Litten, the lawyer whose cross-investigation of Hitler exposed the violence of Nazism to the world in the early 1930s. Or even Marlene Dietrich, the great German actress who paid for Jewish friends to flee occupied Europe and made numerous anti-Nazi broadcasts.
These were people who refused to be subsumed by the tide of hatred engulfing their society – and who spoke up instead for peace and tolerance. These men and women provide both a template of courage and an extraordinary legacy, which Hope not Hate carries today through the activists who take to the streets to oppose racism and prejudice. Those who campaign tirelessly to ensure that fascism is never allowed to gain a foothold in our society should be applauded, because their vigilance safeguards values that all of us should cherish.
On Holocaust Memorial Day, the day on which Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated, perhaps we should turn our thoughts from bleak images of concentration camps and visceral horror of gas chambers. Maybe instead we should remember the once colour-filled lives of those who were murdered and mourn the fact that they were taken from us. We should take a moment to celebrate the Holocaust survivors who moved here after the war and enriched modern Britain. And we should recommit ourselves to following the legacy of men and women like Sophie, Hans and Marlene – by never giving in to bigotry and by always speaking out against hatred.