My next door neighbour was an Auschwitz survivor. His name was Abraham, and in the camp he was put on the night shift of forced labour. He survived – he said – because the guards were too tired to beat the prisoners. At one point he was so hungry that he climbed a refuse pile to steal a rotten apple. The punishment beating he was given for this crime was so severe that he suffered from back problems until the day he died.
Abraham was one of the lucky ones. He survived. Every other member of his family was killed.
It’s easy for we who were born years later to think of Auschwitz as something very distant. From time to time people even express irritation about Jews ‘banging on about the Holocaust’.
Perhaps it would be time to forget if we had — as a world — learned the lesson of history. But we have not. After the Holocaust there were the Gulags. The Killing Fields of Cambodia. Rwanda. Kosovo. Darfur. In hope, we still sometimes look back to the Holocaust and say ‘never again’. But it would be truer to say ‘never before’. Because the Holocaust did not end something, it began it.
We may have a UN convention on genocide, but we have not eradicated it. If anything we have institutionalised it. ‘Ethnic Cleansing’ has entered our language.
My friend Abraham died ten years ago. Like all those who endured such things, he could not forget.
As long as such endure, we must not forget either.