I was waiting for the bus early one morning last week, really really tired, and really really cold. And wet. Mid-way through the rain, it turned into snow and I could feel my fingers going numb from under my gloves. I started swearing in my head at that stage and wishing I could just crawl into bed for a week.
Because it will soon be International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, my mind drifted to other people who stood in the snow. I forgot how cold I was and felt rather stupid and selfish.
This is something I’ve been thinking about lately: what it must have felt like, physically, emotionally and psychologically, to be in the snow, with little protection, in those camps. To feel that abandoned by the world. To be that naked with no one to care. How do human beings endure that? Our bodies and minds are not built for that kind of assault. It shocks me every time I think about it, and that shock never wears off.
Each year we say ‘never again’ and each year we mean it, but also, we know it’s not the truth. Because the only thing that protects Jews from ‘never again’ is not the goodwill or benevolence of the world which has learnt its lesson, but our own determined self-protection. You don’t need to look very far to know that the world has not only not learnt its lesson, but is mutating and expanding anti-Semitism in varied new directions.
Yesterday, the UN held its first-ever meeting on anti-Semitism. It took till 2015 for them to do that. What the hell were they waiting for, exactly? The more things change, the more they stay the same.**
I don’t want to remember the Holocaust for my own sake, or the sake of present Jews alone. But simply, for the sake of those whom the world failed to protect, those who were turned into numbers, standing alone in the snow.
**I leave you with illustrative and necessary reading:
‘The Jewish situation, too, is marked by a disjuncture between what we say about ourselves and what is said about us.’
Belgian public schools becoming ‘Jew-free’ zones.
‘My great uncle Alex led a wonderful life after the war as an art dealer, but, as I said, he never again trusted the country that had betrayed him so badly. When I asked once why he refused to keep his paintings in a bank vault, preferring instead to keep them hidden in his house, he replied: “Because they always come for the Jews.” Plus ça change.’
‘What will it take for progressives to understand in their bones that Jew-hatred can never be one whit more defensible than any other racial insanity? A competitive number of Jewish bodies? Will resolutions flow now through academic associations calling for sanctions against Jew-hating institutions? Why is there any hesitation about protecting a vulnerable and long-devastated people—even when the Jewish State commits its own crimes? Is there always to be an asterisk about racism, where the attached footnote reads: Jews need not apply?’
‘The silence that descended on Paris on the eve of Shabbat, after the echoes of shootings in the north and east of the city quieted down, was not light. It was thick, strangling, burdensome.’