People often asks me why I protest loudly on Holocaust Memorial Day to link issues of current injustice and why I believe that memorialisation without action isn't enough. Once I finish occupying the lobbies of government buildings and corporate headquarters - and in this case 10 Downing Street and Westminster with our friends at Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC) and Black Triangle Campaign and Never Again Ever! - I say we have to lift our heads high and look with clear eyes at what is happening around us today and take action - here's why.
This week world leaders gathered to remember seven decades since the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps, leading to the end of WWII. Amongst the pyrotechnics, the school trips to Auschwitz, Hollywood-style Government film productions and politicians speeches referencing the United Nations statement 'Never Again for Anyone' (resolution 217 A (III) of 10 December 1948 - in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) - I often wonder how these ceremonies contribute and transform such trauma it into a force for good.
All four grandparents were Holocaust survivors from Poland, Germany and Holland. Under the Nazis, my grandparents were hunted and bludgeoned by those who decided that Jews, along with other minority groups, had no right to live on this planet. I was shaped by their stories of what they experienced. Holocaust Memorial Day often leads to a problematic culture of silence and prayer, at the expense of genuinely understanding how fascism still exists and what ordinary people can do about it. That's why on Holocaust Memorial Day we stood together with disabled movements against the cuts to confront structures in society that are still vulnerable to fascist mobilisation. Like those working to targets, handing out penalties in dole offices these contractors are only doing their jobs, just taking orders - just like the Nazi's said"
The Nazis believed that human beings only have value if they can work and bring economic benefit for the 'community'. Those who were too sick, weak or disabled to work were murdered immediately, and those fit members of persecuted groups such as Jews, Roma, Communists and LGBT people were deliberately worked to death. Today, the sick and disabled have been particularly targeted by government welfare cuts and 'reforms.' Many who are too sick to work have been forced to do so, against the advice of doctors. Some 1,300 people have died within 6 weeks of their work capability assessment. Additionally, many who are able and willing to work have had the support they need in their homes and/or workplaces removed, forcing them to become unemployed, isolated, and dependent on benefits against their will. We are constantly given the message that the workless are worthless. In this context, the Nazi slogan 'Arbeit Macht Frei ("work sets you free")' has a particular gruesome resonance.
Part of the problem is that the heaviness of the Holocaust as a topic has led to a problematic culture of silence and prayer, at the expense of understanding and smart politics. We must not keep our understanding of the Holocaust at a safe distance from our understanding of ourselves and our society and instead raise dialogue, understanding, and a movement to confront structures in society that are still vulnerable to fascist mobilisation. The Holocaust was traumatic, but we can imprint our memory of it with new ideas of critical emancipation so that we may one day entertain ideas of joy and raucous celebration of survival, resistance, solidarity and overcoming, rather than perpetual mourning. This is why imagination, music, poetry and art is a healing mechanism, accessible for future generations and most importantly, a noisy protest against its own condition of being.
So many groups were persecuted and murdered by the Nazis. It is essential that we remember them all. Nobody owns the discussion around the Holocaust - but we all own the responsibility to take action today to highlight discrimination and persecution wherever it happens. My grandparents' experience instilled in me the idea that grave injustice exists in the world. As a result, it's my duty to them and others to facilitate discussion and action in making sure we challenge oppression everywhere we see it. I believe that memorialisation without action is part of the problem. The 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau is as good a time as any to deliver that message.