Holocaust Memorial Day

Published on 05 February 2018

Holocaust Memorial Day

The History and English departments collaborated on a series of assemblies which illustrated how words as a legacy of the Holocaust offer us a startling instruction to avoid making mistakes of a similar nature and magnitude.

Mr Cooksey selected a powerful speech from Adolf Hitler, castigating and inflammatory in tone, which justified the persecution and isolation of the Jewish population in Germany before the outbreak of the Second World War. The degradation of the Jew in German culture; film, books, speeches and propaganda, created mass antipathy towards the plight of this minority group and others. Hitler’s speech provided a stark example of how persuasive words can be and their consequences. Although anti-Semitism was common before the Nazi Party ruled Germany, without Hitler’s inspiration six million Jews would never have perished in this way 

The experience of Jewish people was highlighted using words in a variety of forms. The Book Thief, a novel, told the story of a young girl who elicited  forbidden material from the wreckage of a Nazi book burning. Ms Murray spoke of how this defiant act to read offered hope to people in desperate times.  Ms Peplow read a segment of an affecting article written by Martha Gellhorn, a US war correspondent. Gellhorn described the horror and cruelty of Dachau, the original Nazi concentration camp, and emoted how important it is to speak of the truth – even if the truth is ‘unspeakable’. Ms Akers-Jarvis read out an extract from a protest song ‘It is burning’ which patently challenged apathetic bystanders who failed to oppose this genocide, and emphasised that words can be weaponised; to inspire, to radicalise, to call to action.

Whilst Hitler’s words worked to mobilise willing collaborators in the industrial scale executions in Nazi death camps, philosopher Hannah Arendt  didn’t hold Hitler solely to blame for the Holocaust. Instead she wrote of those ‘terrifyingly normal’ individuals who had expedited the system; those who worked in the camps, organised transportations, recorded statistics, operated the gas chambers, and who had selected the weak for executions. Hannah Arendt positioned the crime as a perfect example of the banality, the mundanity, of evil; what atrocities can occur when ordinary people decide to act, not think. Perhaps the most significant lesson from the Holocaust is this; our perception of reality and morality can be warped by manipulative words; a valid lesson for today with ‘fake news’ intensified by social media. Mrs Quinn drew parallels with the decisions made today; whether to question or to act, to believe truth or lies, whether to undertake actions which are right or wrong. In the current political context particularly with the rise of the far right in America and Europe, these lessons feel more apt than ever. 

Mr Bodo spoke of the impact of President Trump’s divisive and regressive words which have stimulated persecution and tension in America. Gellhorn herself stated ‘people will more readily swallow lies than truth’ which challenges how we perceive the vast amount of information we digest daily on a multitude of platforms. Fortunately, we have yesterday’s words to guide us away from   making similar mistakes.