Look, this is probably the darkest thing I have ever written, it’s about my feelings on far right wing groups and fascism, you might not be in the kind of place where this is something you will want to read at the moment and that’s ok. This is just what I am thinking about a lot so I felt it was important to put in on here. That’s all really.
Have you ever met anyone who has spent some time inside a concentration camp?
What is it about the holocaust?
What is it that makes us crave to hear about and to read about it so much?
Why do we want to watch so many films about it?
As a culture we had consumed it over and over again. We have walked around exhibitions, we have read books and we have seen plays and films. I remember at uni reading ‘If this is a man,’ by Primo Levi, which is a graphic account of his time in a concentration camp.
When we got into our seminar groups we started to discuss the book.
‘I loved the book,’ said one student.
‘I couldn’t put it down,’ said another.
‘I really enjoyed reading it,’ said another.
At this point, I had to butt in.
‘You enjoyed it?’ I said.
‘Well, yes,’ she replied, ‘it was a gripping read. Didn’t you enjoy the book?’ she asked me.
‘No,’ I said. ‘No, I didn’t. It made me feel physically sick every minute that I was reading it. Every page, every chapter, every moment. I hated reading it. I had to keep putting it down’
Thus followed a discussion on how it wasn’t important how uncomfortable or upsetting it was for me to read. What was important was that we should all be aware of what happened in the camps, what life was like inside one and that we should learn from the horrors of the holocaust, that it should never happen again. Still, I found it weird that they seemed to enjoy the discussion and the book so much, talking about their favourite parts and the bits that moved them to tears.
While I was at uni, I worked part time in a day centre for elderly people. I helped to pick the disabled and partially sighted elderly people up in a minibus and helped to drop them home at the end of each day in my hi-viz jacket.When I became a mum I was already pretty good at navigating kerbs and ramps with the pram. I had pushed a wheelchair so many times. I also helped in the kitchen at lunch time, cooking the lunch and helping to wash up when the meal was over.
One day, after the washing up I took a break outside to get away from the heat of the kitchen. One of the elderly ladies was walking up and down with her walking stick outside the front doors in the last of the winter sun. She was someone I chatted to regularly. She liked to show me photos of her handsome grandson who was an officer in the army. She liked to tell me about her daughters and to ask me about my boyfriend. Apart from her polish accent, she reminded me very much of my own grandma.
Outside in the cold that afternoon, she came over and held onto my arm. Suddenly outside and away from the noise of the centre she didn’t want to talk about her handsome grandson anymore.
‘I have to do this,’ she said. ‘I have to walk everyday.’
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Good for you. It’s good to do a bit of exercise everyday.’
She looked up into my face. She was wearing those massive sunglasses that partially sighted people wear sometimes. Behind the black plastic, her eyes flickered and focused on something that was not there. I noticed that despite the cold and the way that our breaths were curling away into the air she was not wearing any coat.
‘When I was young,’ she began.
‘When I was young I was made to walk and walk.
We walked for miles in the snow.
I was . . . maybe fourteen.
We had to walk and walk.
We couldn’t stop.
So many were sick.
They fell down like rice.’
She motioned casually dropping a handful of rice onto the roadside.
‘They fell down on the road. We were all children really. So many were, you know, they were just sick so, like rice, they just dropped down in the road. They left them there on the road. Where they fell. So many of them.’
‘But where were you going?’ I asked, quite confused as to what we were talking about.
She gripped my arm and her voice became something between a croak and a whisper.
‘To the camps of course.’
So why am I writing about the holocaust? Why am I writing about this on a mum-blog? I don’t really want to. I hate writing this post. I wish that I wasn’t.
I feel that I have to write about how I’m truly feeling, about what is going on inside my head. I’m not sure there if there is anything else I can really write.
I am writing about the holocaust because I feel like even after all the books and the films and the art and the museum exhibitions, it seems that we can still not recognise and stamp out fascism when it begins to rise, and I am disturbed that so many of us can still not manage to have any compassion on those who are desperately seeking safety for their families and children.
Who are we becoming in Britain?
I hardly recognise us anymore.
Last week several Polish fruit pickers were verbally abused and chased through my local town centre, simply for walking down the street near to some drunk white men.
‘Why don’t you fuck off home now?’ They shouted after them.
‘Why don’t you fuck off back to your own country?’
Several months ago a disused building in my next town was used for a short period of time as a temporary home for unaccompanied young asylum seekers. People turned up with placards from the English defence league to protest against it, claiming that local children would not be safe with this ‘invasion’ of non-english children. Some local parents agreed and turned up with their children who had made placards in their best bubble writing saying, ‘PUT OUR CHILDREN FIRST’ and ‘NOT ON OUR DOORSTEP’
In a few years’ time those same kids will be reading ‘The Diary of Anne Frank,’ at school. They will read about what happens when we dehumanise each other, when we demonise each other, when we go through an economic crisis and we suffer and then right wing groups start to rise up like a bad smell and point their fingers at ‘foreigners’ as the cause of all their problems.
A few nights after the protest, perhaps one of the mums flicks on the telly. Schindler’s List is on. Oh good, she thinks, I haven’t seen this film for a while, I love that bit with the girl in the red coat. It’s so emotional. Such a tear jerker.
In a few hundred years’ time, when she is dead and gone, her children’s, children’s, children’s, children will be living somewhere, maybe here and it will not be safe. Facing starvation and abuse and rape and torture and death they will decide to run instead. They will try to find somewhere that is safe. They will be knocking on the door of another country. They will be begging to be let in.
We congratulate ourselves on our victory in WW2. Our side beat the fascists. Our side stamped them out. Our side liberated those still left in the concentration camps. Didn’t we learn all about it in school? Didn’t our grandparents tell us stories of sleeping in air raid shelters and tube stations, of climbing over piles of rubble to get to school in the morning?
What I feel is happening in this country, right here, right now, in this century, is that far right wing groups are becoming more acceptable. They are not just wearing bomber jackets and combats and pissing on the steps of mosques anymore. They are wearing suits and are standing up in parliament and getting time on tv.
Many of us voted to remain in the E.U. Many voted to leave. I was very upset by the result, but I was more upset by the way that the result seemed to encourage and empower racist groups and far right wing groups, those who were desperate to hear others say, ‘foreigners out!’
What happened in Germany, all those years ago, wasn’t it fascism at its very worst?
A far right wing political group blaming those viewed as ‘outsiders’, those who were not ‘purely native’ as the cause of all problems. Whipping up fear and anger towards the Jews, just as groups like ‘Britain First’ whip up fear and anger towards Muslims today.
Look, I know that I am not a politician, but these are my thoughts and feelings. This is where I am at after all the studying and living and caring that I have done in my life so far. This is what I believe and I guess that as someone who has been raised and educated in England, two generations away from WW2 and the horror of the holocaust, a desire to stand against fascism exists at the very core of who I am. To hear racist, xenophobic cries on the street, to see leaflets shoved through doors and posters put up in my area from some of these groups is something I never thought I would see.
I thought that we would have learnt by now that nothing good will ever come from this hate?
That at its very dark heart, it dreams we are dead already.
It’s not often that I spill a bag of rice onto the floor. It may have happened four or five times since I heard that lady’s story all those years ago, but each time that I do, each time that I rip the bag accidentally and see all those grains tumbling out, hundreds and hundreds of them spreading out and rolling across the floor, I think of her. I remember her eyes under those glasses as she held onto my arm, no longer able to see me but seeing instead all the children, all the many children, falling down into the snow.
This week she may be one of many receiving leaflets through their doors.
I am glad she will not be able to read it,
‘Polish scum. Go home.’