The Director of the Wiener Library, Ben Barkow, reflects on Dr Wiener’s determination to speak out against Nazism and remembers the moment when Britain stood in solidarity with Jewish victims of Nazism.
As we prepare for HMD 2012 I’m struck that the Library’s founder, Dr Alfred Wiener, was an example of speaking up and speaking out way back in the 1920s when he first identified Hitler and the Nazi Party as an existential threat not only to the Jews of Germany but to Germany itself. Few people in Germany – indeed in Europe – were clearer in their public statements about the threat and about the need for ordinary German men and women to take a stand if they didn’t want their own homeland ruined. It’s a lesson for us all – if we don’t speak out we risk being counted among those grey, complicit shadows known as the bystanders.
The Library’s own HMD event will focus on the declaration read in the House of Commons by the Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden on 17 December 1942 in the name of United Nations condemning the murder of the Jews. I’ve really enjoyed working with SOAS’s Dr Dan Plesch on this – he’s written a great book about the wartime history of United Nations. This is an inspiring story that reminds us that political alliances, despite the brutal horse-trading that is an inescapable part of them, can produce liberation, justice and freedom.
After hearing the declaration on 17 December 1942 the House stood in a minute’s silence – an unprecedented gesture of solidarity with the victims. After this date no citizen of the free world could reasonably claim not to have known about the Nazi murder of Europe’s Jews. Following the declaration a wealth of detailed information about the Nazi terror was published and the effort to bring war criminals to justice after the war got under way.
This is forgotten history, but thanks to Dan Plesch and the events we are planning together for 2012/3 I hope it will become more familiar to those interested in the Holocaust.