Esteemed blogger Norman Geras writes on the lessons of Holocaust Memorial Day and Iraq
Today is the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. It is a day on which people throughout the world are remembering the crimes committed by the Nazis and their collaborators against the Jewish people and millions of others in Europe between 1933 and 1945.
Both the nature and the scale of these crimes continue to beggar belief. However much one knows about them, reading or hearing or seeing again an account, or presentation, or film, of some part of that experience invariably reveals some freshly appalling aspect of it, some new detail of Nazi barbarity that leaves one aghast.
Naturally, a main purpose of publicly marking this period of twentieth century European history is to remember its victims: Jews the most hated and most relentlessly pursued and targeted, but also Roma and Sinti, Poles, Russians, as well as others from virtually all the countries of Europe – and amongst them Jehovah’s Witnesses, the disabled and the
mentally ill, gay people, Communists, Social Democrats, resistance fighters, more.
However, another crucial purpose of the commemoration is to emphasize the unity of humankind: in its shared needs and nature, its commonality of suffering and its fundamental rights to a life free from fear, from wanton assault, murder, arbitrary imprisonment, hunger and other grave but preventable or remediable misfortunes.
The flow of victims did not end in 1945. New chapters have been added to the book of the dead. One of the longest and darkest of these chapters in recent times has been the agony endured by the peoples of Iraq: a story of daily, all-enveloping fear, of the most brutal tortures, of people broken or destroyed in the presence of those they loved, of ‘disappearances’, of mass murder. Just like the unity of humanity, the unity of such crimes against humanity is self-evident.
All the elements of what Iraqis have had to suffer share a lineage with the crimes of German National Socialism. The victims of Saddam Hussein’s regime need especially to be remembered today. Fierce political divisions over the war in Iraq may have had the effect
of obscuring them from view. But across the legitimate differences of political and moral judgement about that war, holding those victims within public memory is now one of the duties of solidarity with the peoples of Iraq as they struggle for transition towards a better, democratic life.