The Twentieth Century was, in many ways, an era of great global progress. The invention of computers and the internet, the civil rights movement and the end of the Cold War all stand as some of the most important achievements of the twentieth century, but it is all too easy to forget that between the years of 1942-45, there was an event that arguably set the course of human development spinning in a vacuum. The Holocaust remains one of the most abhorrent moments in human history, so it may seem strange to dedicate a day to its memory. But we must remember the Holocaust for one very simple reason: so it can never happen again.
As the social historian Hannah Arendt has argued, the Holocaust was a “rupture with civilization.” The systematic execution of over 5.7 million Jews, Romani people, homosexuals and other enemies of the National Socialist state was an unprecedented development in social history, made even more harrowing by the nationwide ignorance of the German people. Without doubt one of the most shocking war crimes in human history, the act of genocide, unfortunately, did not end with the holocaust. Mass extermination in Bosnia and Rwanda would follow, indicating that as a species, we still have much to learn from the Holocaust.
The escalation of xenophobia and hatred in Europe in the early Twentieth century should have served as a warning, but perhaps nobody believed the movement could ever reach such a climax. Regardless, such notions still crop up in the political sphere today. Fear, rather than understanding, is still rampant. Only two years ago there were reports of violence meted out to supporters of the Remain campaign, who believed in Britain’s responsibility to support migrants. A similar political trend accompanied Donald Trump’s rise to power in 2016; the comparisons between the xenophobia directed at Mexican immigrants and the antisemitism doled to our Jewish citizens following the Anschluss of 1938 are too unsettling to ignore.
It is for these reasons that we must never forget the Holocaust. So that we never have to revisit such a dark chapter in our history books, so that we may be united as a multicultural nation, so that we may continue to cherish the values of kindness and love, rather than hatred.
National Holocaust Memorial Day takes place today, on the 27th January. There will be an event held at the Jane Austen lecture theatre in The Spark at Southampton Solent at 5:30 to commemorate the occasion.