This is the third of a trilogy of articles about the events commemorated on the consecutive dates, 25-27 January. The first event, remembered on 25 January, was the anniversary of the birth of the Scottish poet, Robert Burns. The second event, commemorated annually on 26 January, was Australia Day. In this article, I will be focusing on the “Holocaust Memorial Day”
A relevant article in Wikipedia reminds us that “27 January is an international memorial day for the victims of the Holocaust, the genocide that resulted in the annihilation of 6 million Jews, 2 million Gypsies (Roma and Sinti), 15,000 homosexual people and millions of others by the Nazi regime and its collaborators”. The United Nations resolution that designated this event came in 2005, the same year that marked the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps and the end of the Holocaust.
The Day of Remembrance for the victims of National Socialism was established in Germany in 1996. In the UK, the Holocaust Memorial Day has been observed every 27 January since 2001.
The UN resolution establishing 27 January as International Holocaust Remembrance Day was an initiative of the State of Israel and urges every member nation of the U.N. to honour the memory of Holocaust victims, and encourages the development of educational programs about Holocaust history to help prevent future acts of genocide. It rejects any “denial of the Holocaust”, condemns all manifestations of “religious intolerance, incitement, harassment or violence against persons or communities based on ethnic origin or religious belief.”
The essence of the text lies in its twofold approach: one that deals with “the memory and remembrance of those who were massacred during the Holocaust”, and the other with “educating future generations of its horrors”. The Holocaust commemoration is, therefore, more than remembrance. It is essentially to do with human rights and the lessons of the Holocaust must be applied to today’s world – and in all parts of that world. All nations must strive to ensure that all peoples enjoy the protection and rights for which the UN stands.
It is this context that on-going opposition to racism and anti-Semitism should be seen. Recent development in Hungarian politics and on an English football field remind us of this.
The third largest political party in Hungary, the far-right Jobbik party, has recently demonstrated its overt racism. Having a fondness for garb and insignia that is reminiscent of the pro-Nazi and ultra-nationalist parties of Hungary’s past, Jobbik wishes to confine Hungary’s Roma minority, a favourite Jobbik target, to ghettoes. Not surprisingly, Jobbik also considers Jewish people to be a “security risk”. Indeed, there was a recent call in Hungary’s parliament to “tally up people of Jewish ancestry”. The call came from Jobbik’s deputy leader in the Hungarian parliament!
It is, therefore, not to be ignored that the leader of this movement has been in the UK recently, seeking the votes of Hungarians resident in this country – no doubt bringing with him the evangelistic doctrines of prejudice and hatred and the threat to the human rights of both Roma peoples and those of Jewish ancestry – in Hungary if not in the UK. It is from within this context that we can also not ignore the appearance of the quenelle in an English football stadium.
I refer, of course, to that much-discussed gesture by the West Bromwich football player, Nicholas Anelka, as he celebrated scoring against West Ham in a Premier League game a few weeks ago. He has since been charged by the Football Association. The full significance of the quenelle gesture may have been lost on a British audience, but the match was being shown in France where it would have been much more familiar.
One commentator had this to say about the matter: “The quenelle is deliberately vague, a kind of repressed Hitler salute. It is designed to dodge the full ‘Sieg Heil’, while still offering the thrill of breaking the supposed taboo on anti-Semitism.” Anelka’s defence was that he was simply showing solidarity with his mate, Dieudonne M’bala M’bala, a man described by one writer as a “pseudo-comedian and demagogue”, “whose act is drenched in anti-Jewish racism.”
It has been further said that Dieudonne “Understands something comprehended by all anti-Semites, that for anti-Semitism to win, the Holocaust itself must be defeated, its place in the collective memory destroyed.” One defence of the staging of the quenelle is that it is merely an anti-establishment gesture, a protest against the system. A real problem with this view is that the favourite places for this kind of demonstration have included synagogues and Holocaust memorials, and have been accompanied by anti-Semitic oratory.
From another perspective, it might be suggested that Dieudonne and his followers subscribe to that most ancient of anti-Semitic myths, that is, that the world is run by a Jewish conspiracy.
The free movement of people brings the equally free movement of ideas, whether that is the neo-fascist platform of the Hungarian Jobbik party or the quenelle gesture of French mates. That is the nature of the global village. But that is also why nations need to constantly remember and adhere to the reasons why the UN initiated the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. This 27 January event commemorates the fact that all peoples, without exception, deserve the protection afforded by human rights and justice, as well as the freedom to live without being victimised by any form of prejudice.
These principles need to be constantly remembered and practiced by those who watch, play and administer the people’s game – as well as by the political classes.