PERSPECTIVE: Human Atrocities and Selective Memories; While We Should Undoubtedly Remember the Nazi Holocaust, Steve Curtis Argues That the Jews Are Not the Only Race to Have Fallen Foul of a Despot

The Birmingham Post (England), February 1, 2005 | Go to article overview

PERSPECTIVE: Human Atrocities and Selective Memories; While We Should Undoubtedly Remember the Nazi Holocaust, Steve Curtis Argues That the Jews Are Not the Only Race to Have Fallen Foul of a Despot


Byline: Steve Curtis

The Americans find history easier than we do. Everything starts about 200 years ago and even then there are only a dozen or so colonies to concern themselves with.

In contrast, we British often find ourselves torn between what to remember and what to forget.

In spite of such trouble, Hitler's extermination of the Jews has managed to achieve a unique position in just about every textbook of modern history. Indeed, its significance appears to be increasing with the passage of time while other historical facts find themselves casually discarded.

For those in the know, The Holocaust remains one of the most emotive issues of the last 100 years. In modern times, an entire industry has grown up around the events of that era, and a generation that seems to remember nothing else knows something about Auschwitz.

Even as a thought experiment, it remains difficult to dismiss such events. But as we rush to remember, there are other matters that we find easier to forget. At the most basic level, the simplest criticism you can make of the Holocaust industry is that the act of mass extermination in itself is far from unique.

The Second World War was fought between two of the most sinister figures in modern history and their passion for mutual destruction was matched only by their fetish for domestic slaughter.

Stalin seems to have done his best to challenge Hitler and managed to finish ahead of him on both accounts.

The death toll from the Soviet Gulags has been estimated at more than 20 million. Whenever you hear anyone express sympathy with the suffering of Soviet citizens during the Nazi invasion, remember that part of the reason Hitler came so far into Russia was that the Russian government had already exterminated their entire officer corps.

And yet, despite all this, the Russian Gulags have simply never attracted the same kind of attention as the Holocaust. On the face of it, if we were going to pick out one act of European industrialised murder for remembrance, we would choose the one in Russia. In terms of the overall turnover of torsos, Stalin is far ahead of Hitler. But in the West, just as an official Holocaust remembrance day seems so natural, a Gulag remembrance day seems wholly unrealistic.

Part of the explanation for all this lies in the flagrant desire of our leaders to manipulate the past. Historical events have always been used as a tool to mould contemporary thinking. When documented by modern-day liberal historians in Britain, blame for the Great War is easily apportioned to the British upper classes.

It is not, for example, directed against the Germans, who had merely started the war. That might be seen to encourage antiGerman sentiment at a time of a liberal enthusiasm for European unity. It's actually okay to remember our own nation's World War One dead, so long as the act of remembrance is perceived to encourage pacifism, contempt for traditional authority etc.

In contrast, the Germany of the 1930s perceived The Great War very differently. The fantastic grief of the German nation was directed at the Communists and Jews.

Nowadays, for would-be republicans in Australia, it was the fault of the English. By placing the emphasis on the Holocaust, the Second World War makes an easy modern day parable about the dangers of racial intolerance.

Perhaps another reason to focus on the Holocaust is the fact that our own servicemen stumbled across it.

In contrast, the option of discovering the Gulags was simply never there. Colour pictures that move are harder to ignore than rumour and with the suggested death toll for Gulags ranging from three to 30 million, is it really worth discussing the matter in any depth?

The true answer to this paradox of memory may lie in human nature. Man is such a tribal animal that he needs to be able to see two discernable groups. …

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