Vicky Allan: Let’s not forget the horrors of the present as we remember the past
THERE are not that many left who survived the Nazi genocide. Some remain, still telling their story, as 89-year-old Harry Spiro did in a webcast for schools this week, in advance of today’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day and National Holocaust Memorial Day. But he is one of fewer and fewer living, breathing reminders of the horrors. Each year sees more of them pass away.
One of the sadnesses of marking this day is that it, in many ways, is not just a piece of distant history. Even once all these Nazi genocide survivors have died, the day will not lose its living voice. For genocide still pulses across the world.
Many of these voices are still young. Among them, for instance, visiting Scotland this weekend is 22-year-old Fareeda Abbas, a Yazidi woman who, like Nadia Murad, last year’s winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, is a survivor from Kojo, a village massacred by Islamic State.
On August 15, 2014, Islamic State soldiers gathered all of the people from her village in the school building and asked them to convert to Islam – then, when they rejected that, they began killing the men, 450 over the course of one day, including her father and two of her brothers.
For four months, Abbas was held in captivity, raped, beaten, forced to watch an eight-year-old girl being raped. At one point her injuries were so bad she could hardly move or see. After several attempts at escape, on the third she succeeded.
Abbas is one of the key driving forces in Yazda, a charity that aims to prevent future genocides against the Yazidi community and other minorities, and to assist them in recovery. Recently it held a fundraiser in Edinburgh, organised by a Scot who had been affected by their story. It was a reminder that the Yazidi plight must not be forgotten.
Meanwhile, there are the voices of the Rohingya, around 10,000 of whom were killed in Myanmar in 2017, and 900,000 are currently living across camps in Cox’s Bazar.
There is also Sudan, where hundreds of thousands of Darfuris have been killed under Omar al-Bashir’s genocidal regime, and the many other countries, where according to Genocide Watch, there is a genocide emergency.
But genocide doesn’t pop up from nowhere. We can see it coming. The Genocide Watch site lists around 15 countries which are already at what it describes as the “extermination” stage of genocide, and many more that are involved in polarisation or other processes which it outlines as leading up to mass murder.
Never again, we say. But then we look around the word and see that here it is again, and again. If we want to know what we’ve learned in the 70 years since Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated, we need only look at how we have reacted to these recent genocides and what the international community has failed to do. These are the people we should think about most on International Holocaust Memorial Day – the people still in the grip of horror, or aftermath, the people who need support.
Above all, though, this day should provide fuel to a fight against the hatred, polarisation and dehumanisation that, according to Genocide Watch, are preconditions for genocide. These are as present as ever across the world, perhaps on the rise.
Sharing in mob justice
You only have to look at some of the responses online to the fact that former Shameless star Tina Malone is being prosecuted for contempt of court for sharing an image of someone said to be Jon Venables to realise that vigilantism is alive and well in the British public. For, it seems that plenty are out to support Malone, not just because they think the possibility of her being jailed is ridiculous and would represent a step too far – which is fair enough – but because they think she was quite right to share the Venables picture and that he should indeed be exposed.
Mob justice seemed to be the mood of the day, with a general feeling pervading that Venables would deserve whatever came to him. Few were the voices saying, this is the law and the kind of restrictions we need in order to live in a civilised society where justice isn’t meted out by crowds baying for blood. But Malone’s fame makes her a particularly good example to pursue for this sharing, which was done by many others.
ONE NAZI WAR CRIMINAL CONVICTED, THREE INDICTED: REPORT
The Wiesenthal Center explained in a statement that the extension of life expectancy in the Western world has increased chances of prosecuting Nazi war criminals.
Helmut Oberlander, who served in Einsatzgruppen death squad in the Nazi-occupied Soviet Union and was on the Wiesenthal Center’s most wanted Nazi war criminals list, was denaturalized by the Canadian Federal Court.
UN to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day
UN will mark International Holocaust Remembrance with a series of events, including a special session of the UN General Assembly.
The United Nations will mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Monday, January 28, with a series of events, including a special session of the UN General Assembly that will include speeches by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon.
Following the General Assembly event, the Israeli Mission to the United Nations, in cooperation with the Missions of Peru and Portugal, will hold an event to open an exhibition devoted to diplomats who are Righteous Among the Nations at the organization’s headquarters in New York.
UN Secretary General Guterres will take part in the Israeli event alongside ambassadors and relatives of the diplomats recognized as Righteous Among the Nations.
At the conclusion of the events, Ambassador Danon will lead a delegation of 40 UN ambassadors to Poland to visit the death camps, and then arrive in Israel. This mission is in conjunction with the March of the Living and the American Zionist Movement.
“Some of the diplomats in World War II saw the Jews, first and foremost, as human beings. Truth and morality guided their way to, at great risk, heroically saved them from Nazi extermination. We all hope that the diplomats of our time will join Israel in the struggle against Anti-Semitism, and against the voices in Tehran that call for the destruction of the Jewish state,” said Danon.