In the latest in our series commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day, The Rt Hon Sir Malcolm Rifkind, MP for Kensington, blogs on the need for the Holocaust to be commemorated as a unique event.
I was born after the Second World War. None of my family perished in Auschwitz or other death and concentration camps. I might, therefore, see the Holocaust as one, but only one of the many terrible events for which the twentieth century will be remembered; alongside the Soviet Gulag, the Cambodian killing fields, the Rwandan genocide, and numerous others.
But the Holocaust needs to be remembered and commemorated as something uniquely evil.
Whenever we like to think of Europe as the cradle of civilisation, the birthplace of political liberty, and the genesis of the rule of law we need to remind ourselves that modern European history shows, also, that the veneer of civilisation can be very thin and that the history of mankind cannot yet be described as one of uninterrupted political and moral progress to a higher plane.
For Germany, one of the best educated, culturally advanced and economically successful nations, to have been the birthplace of the Nazi Party and the Holocaust is a warning to every Western nation that genocide and unspeakable brutality is not just the prerogative of so-called backward nations. If it happened in our parents’ lifetime in the heart of Europe we cannot assume that it could not happen again in our own, or in that of our children.
The other consideration that we must never lose sight of was that, for the first time in human history, the death of millions of people was, largely, carried out as an industrial process, implemented with ruthless planning and efficiency. Millions of men, women and children, were packed into cattle trucks; transported across Europe; rendered naked, and then forced into gas chambers and slaughtered. That this happened only 70 years ago in the very heart of our own continent shows how science and technology can be a curse and not a boon to mankind when it is controlled by evil people.