Lest we forget

Peter Jarman reflects on the nature of remembrance

Amongst the many events intended to keep alive the memory of the Nazi genocide of Jews, in January I attended a Holocaust Memorial Day event in York. A Jewish Quaker gave a harrowing account of her grandparents – murdered in Auschwitz.

The murder of millions of Jews seventy years ago and the plight of the survivors was terrible and cannot be forgotten.

Holocaust Memorial Day events include other genocides since then, including those in Rwanda and Darfur. However, the International Court of Justice ruled recently that the war crimes in Serbia and Croatia were not genocide, which is ‘the intention to destroy in whole or in part a national, ethnical, racial or religious group’.

There was a deafening silence at the York event about Palestinians whose livelihoods have been destroyed by successive Israeli governments. I heard no mention of the hundreds of Palestinian children and over 1,600 adult civilians killed during the Israeli shelling and bombing of Gaza in 2009 and 2014. Gaza: virtually a small blitzed prison enclosure with little proper sanitation or health care. Does the fate of Palestinians come close to genocide?

I felt like intervening when a person holding a lighted candle advised that British children should be taught about the Holocaust. Surely this is for adults to include in a balanced study of German history? For school pupils this could add to the stereotyping that some have about Germans – as if they were all Nazis. Roswitha, to whom I am married, was nine at the end of the war when she and her family fled from east Germany as the Soviet army invaded. When she sought to teach German at a comprehensive school in Birmingham in 1975 the kids there shouted ‘piss off, you Hun’. She, like many Germans in Britain, has borne the guilt of what the Nazis did, continually having a finger pointed at her as if she was responsible.

Her dismay over the Nazi crimes recently dominating newspapers and television came on top of the centenary of the first world war and the many war films depicting German forces on television.

Little, if anything, is broadcast about the German resistance to Adolf Hitler. Amongst the many who perished for this were Sophie Scholl and her two friends, young people, who were beheaded in 1943 for criticising the Nazi treatment of the Jews.

I am much troubled about the continual silence about what we British did during the Kikuyu uprising in Kenya in 1952-60: the ‘Mau Mau’ rebellion against the British occupying their land. We British were responsible for the torturing, killing and execution of tens of thousands Kikuyu, as related, for example, in Caroline Elkins’ book Britain’s Gulag, based on ten years’ research by this Harvard scholar. When, finally, Jomo Kenyatta, the Kikuyu leader, was released as Kenya moved towards independence in 1960, he advocated forgiveness for the sins of the British.

We British should take responsibility for remembering our crimes against humanity, like the fire bombing of Dresden in February 1945, which killed at least 25,000 civilians, and those tortured and killed in Kenya.

It took until 2013 – some sixty years later – before three or four of the surviving Kikuyu were given compensation for what was done – in our name – to them. Ought I to bear some guilt for what my forefathers did? Should these atrocities be mentioned in a future Holocaust memorial event, lest we forget?

the Friend, 13 March 2015


One Response to Lest we forget

  1. admin says:

    Anne from Shirley by email:

    Thought provoking… as is the sometimes ‘fetishist’ focus on dead soldiers of past wars (the older the better) and the almost total lack of attention at current veterans… many ending up on the streets, or dependent on charity as they get abandoned by a government/ society that put them in harm’s way… many come back broken… I think if we decide it’s worth sending them to war, we should pay the full cost… if that means war becomes less affordable and other options get a closer look in, all the better!

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