Dark memories of Nazism were compared to the extermination of Uyghurs by Xi Jinping’s regime.
by Ruth Ingram
Genocides and holocausts do not suddenly happen. They are plotted and planned under cover of darkness. But once they have seen the light of day, it is too late. Too late for the millions who suffer and die because the world is asleep.
The worldwide Jewish community united this week in a series of events under the banner of “Light the Darkness” to remember the day 76 years ago when 1.1 million emaciated and traumatized individuals were liberated from the Auschwitz concentration camp. Unanimous in their zeal to ensure these horrors are never repeated, they have made it their mission to speak out and urge the world never to forget that humanity is still capable of the utmost barbarity.
Despite vows of “Never Again” following the end of World War II subsequent atrocities have proved that genocide is never far below, simmering beneath the surface of our civilization.
To raise awareness of not only past but current genocides, Holocaust survivors joined London barristers, Jewish and Christian rights campaigners, and religious leaders from the UK this week to condemn horrors committed not only under Nazi Germany, but also in Tibet, Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur, and Myanmar, and to highlight the urgent need to stand in solidarity for Uyghurs whose own genocide is unfolding at this very moment.
Launching the inaugural Doughty Street Chambers first Holocaust Memorial online gathering, Jewish barrister Adam Wagner remembered his 10-year-old son once asking him what would have happened had the Nazis won the Second World War. Without hesitation, he had replied that none of their family, who had fled to the UK 100 years ago to escape persecution then, would have escaped the dragnet, and all would have perished.
Detailing the hideous fact that out of 9-10 million Jews living in Europe in 1939, by 1945 only 3.4 million were left, “three quarters of them were murdered, starved, tortured, enslaved, shot or gassed,” he said, adding, “not to mention the hundreds of thousands of Roma, gay, disabled children and adults who were persecuted or killed.”
Mourning subsequent tragedies and genocides against other ethnic groups, the sad fact is, he said, “that we don’t remember enough.” He is the founder and director of a small human rights charity Each Other UK, whose short film “The Warning Signs” addresses warning signs in society of impending genocide.
Manfred Goldberg a 90-year-old survivor of the Stutthof Concentration camp, speaking by video, remembers as an eight-year-old, the buildup of prejudice and hatred towards Jews. Imperceptible but relentless anti-Semitism started in small ways with the passing of anti-Jewish laws, the loss of their nationality and rights, compulsory signs on shop windows denoting Jewish ownership, the forbidding of radios, sitting on park benches and cinema visits. This all culminated in the terrors of Kristallnacht when frenzied mobs fueled by anti-Jewish propaganda, rampaged through the streets destroying everything in their wake. “After this all Jewish schools were closed,” he said. “Jewish children were expelled from non-Jewish schools, and education stopped after 1939.”
He remembers the insults from other boys and the shouts of “dirty Jew” from across the road. He recalls having to cover up his yellow star and wait until the coast was clear to dash into a baker, throw the money on the counter and escape with a loaf before anyone realized he was a Jew; simply to get enough food to survive.
David Marks, a 92-year-old survivor of Auschwitz, remembers his longing for food and freedom as a young boy in the camp. “If you don’t have those things you are not alive,” he said. But however important freedom might be, he warned, “everyone must realize how fragile it is,” pointing at recent events in Washington and the storming of Capitol Hill.
Marissa Cohen, a hearing and visually impaired barrister, highlighted the role that ordinary doctors played in the extermination of and experimentation on disabled children and adults under the Aktion T4 program. Under the guise of eugenics, 300,000-400,000 handicapped children were euthanized in special camps, on the basis that they were unable to contribute to society. Twenty-three doctors were subsequently convicted of their murder following the war. “It is even more important now to reflect on these tragedies,” she said. “The way we characterize people matters,” she stressed. “We must continue to honor their memory.”
Since Beijing’s brutal crackdown of Uyghurs in North West China in 2017, the worldwide Jewish community, determined to speak out against injustice wherever it may be found, has put its weight behind campaigns to stop this simmering genocide. Events organized by the Jewish human rights arm, René Cassin, and Christian Solidarity Worldwide attracted religious leaders who spoke to representatives of the Uyghur diaspora and reminded them they were not alone.
Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg told Uyghur exile Ziba Murat, whose mother was recently sentenced in China to 20 years imprisonment, that his own mother used to wait with dread for the postman to arrive with the ashes of deceased family members. He shares her longing for news of her mother who has disappeared into Xinjiang’s Uyghur gulag where upwards of one and a half million Uyghurs are currently languishing.
“It is the definition of our humanity that we stand up against this,” he urged.
Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, called oppression, humiliation, and abuse “an offence against all human beings.” As a Christian believer he trusts a God who “champions justice,” he said, adding that as human beings, “we are called to be part of the answer.”
Rahima Mahmut, Director of the World Uyghur Congress in London, speaking at the Doughty event, said that the parallels between the Nazi Holocaust and those being meted out to Uyghurs in China are uncanny. Being herded onto trains, mountains of human hair for sale on the world market, disappearances into the labyrinths of internment camps, human organ harvesting, mass rape, sterilization and abortion, and children abducted and brought up in State orphanages, are some of the atrocities that have recently come to light since Xi Jinping’s crushing of Uyghur culture, language, and religion in 2017.
She was grateful for the solidarity of the Jewish community during this dark period of her people’s history. “The purpose of genocide wherever it occurs is the eradication of the memory of a people from the face of the earth.”
“We are not just talking about numbers of people,” she said. “The Nazi Holocaust was not about the murder of six million Jews. It was about one murder, six million times.”
Uyghurs, she said, had “the terrible honor” of being the victims of a hi-tec genocide where every detail of their lives, every friendship, every conversation, and every movement is monitored and used against them.
Echoing the words of Rabbi Jonathan Sachs who said that the crimes against the Uyghurs were not simply a moral outrage, but a political scandal, she begged politicians who wring their hands in horror at the Jewish holocaust and proclaim, “never again”, to take action.
“Are they acting, or will they act?” she asked.