Last week I travelled to Auschwitz with the Holocaust Educational Trust and young people from my constituency. Like all who visit, I was struck by the scale of human tragedy. I've seen some things in my life, met hundreds of survivors of torture, oppression and slavery. I have been trained to have empathy and understanding but to use techniques to cope and not take work home with me. I'm a tough cookie. The sight of tonnes and tonnes of hair sheared from the heads of Jewish women and girls floored me. Images of every woman and girl, alive and vibrant, dancing, singing, giggling, teasing, working, playing was what I wanted to keep in my mind. Remembering their humanity is what the Holocaust Educational Trust wanted me to do. But in the place where their hair lay all I could see was body after body laid out in lines, worth nothing more than the commodities that could be made from their remains.
Some people matter and some people don't.
"The Selection" process is writ large at the memorial. A single decision made in seconds determined if you would turn left for hard labour or right for imminent death. It took years of drip drip drip feeding to convince nations of people to turn away and ignore the horror. Jewish people didn't lose their identity as humans overnight. The people who turned away and did nothing, didn't lose their sense of justice in a heartbeat or at the simple say so of a foolishly moustached maniac. Drip drip drip... whisper it quietly... some people matter some people don't. Drip drip drip... they are getting something you can't have. Drip drip drip they don't like you, they think they are better than you... drip, drip, drip. They, they, they, us, us, us.
Working with victims of domestic violence and sexual exploitation, you learn pretty quick how grooming a person to your way of thinking is the most dangerous weapon, mankind possesses.
At Auschwitz we light a candle, we remember, this is past, this is in novels, films history books. This isn't us anymore. Isn't it? Everyday we receive our daily intravenous drip, of who matters and who doesn't and recently someone increased the dosage.
This week I overheard a conversation my caseworker Amrita had with a resident. "I will support you making your complaint against the housing officer, of course you deserve better treatment, but I would prefer if you didn't keep saying she was bad because she was Asian." She tells me she gets it every day. Drip, drip, drip... If I had a pound for every person who told me that it's "the Asians" who get the houses first, I'd be rich. Drip... drip... drip. "You can't trust the Israelis they are all rotten" says another visitor, "jews want to rule the world." Drip, drip, drip.
Now a new row has broken out at Oxford University, where I'm ashamed to say that some in the Labour Party society appear to be tolerating the intolerable. Everyday we hear stories of otherness, Islamophobia and antisemitism, in full swing. People pitched one against the other, taxpayers pitched against benefit claimants, women against men. Refugees versus migrants. Everyday we receive our dose of "us" versus "them". Drip, drip, drip.
For many the Holocaust is best summed up in numbers. Six million Jews murdered. Still today it's all a numbers game. Hundreds of thousands of people washed up on beaches, fleeing for their lives. Thousands of women, raped and murdered all around the world. So many x thousands living on some benefit or other, while y thousands of people go out to work. There is safety in numbers, we can be shocked by all the big numbers and then go back to watching the Bake Off. In every number is a person just like you. While we can keep seeing people as "them" we have learned nothing from a gruesome past.
So don't send me letters about how I only care about one group of people. Don't write and tell me you hate Muslims. Don't tweet me and tell me I am nothing but a neo-liberal whipping girl for America and their Jewish friends. Don't tell me that your community demands my loyalty and expects no scrutiny. Don't tell me I hate all men, and don't say because I care when white people rape that means I don't care when other ethnicities do it. I do care. Let's not play a zero sum game, caring about people isn't binary where you only get one of two options. I don't only love one of my children. We all have the capacity to see something "other" and not immediately be threatened by it.
Please by all means let's remember the past and honour it. But don't forget, it was not the gas chambers or the bullets that killed the Jews, the gypsies, the Soviets, the homosexuals. It was the drip, drip, drip of otherness that sealed their fate.
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