Remembering holocaust

Thursday is the 60th anniversary of the liberation of AuschwitzHolocaust Day. Not strictly Northern Ireland, but there’s a lot of material coming out at the moment that reflects the extraordinary experiences of some very ordinary folk.

Most of the things I’ve seen recently have been subscription locked, so here’s short poem by old friend written shortly after he entered Bergen Belsen as a doctor with the British Army.

Day of Liberation
(Bergen-Belsen, May 1945)

We build our own prison walls,
but that day the doors fell open.
It was holiday time
In the death camp.

Lift him with courtesy,
this silent survivor.
Battle-dress doctors,
We took him from the truck,
put him to bed.

The moving skeleton
had crippled hands,
his skinny palms held secrets.
When I undid the joints I found
five wheat grains huddled there.
In the faces of other people
I witness my distress.

I close my eyes:
ten thousand wasted people
piled in the flesh pits.
Death of one is the death of all.
It is not the dead I pity.

Philip Whitfield

  • mickhall

    On the BBC last week, they asked a group of six former’s what they new about the Holocaust and Auschwitz. Sadly a fair proportion new next to nothing which shocked me. I have since taken the opportunity to ask my own grandchildren this question and thankfully although in their lower teens, they new all about what the Nazis got up to. Including that it was not only Jews but also political opponents of the Nazis, Homosexuals and the disabled who were murdered. Am I just lucky in that my Grandchildren go to a decent school and there parents take their responsibilities seriously. Or was the snap sample taken by the BBC somewhat of a misrepresentation of today’s youth.

  • willowfield

    I suspect the sample was accurate. Today’s youth, generally speaking, have little interest in history.

  • cg

    Willowfield

    A lot of young people have an interest in history,just look at the amount doing history degrees.

  • willowfield

    What proportion of young people are doing history degrees?

  • cg

    I don’t have the exact figures willow but In queens I would hazard a guess at at least a third. Then the ones who do politics or law or English all incorporate history to some degree, its unavoidable 😉

  • Davros

    History is a strange thing. Some periods are ‘sexier’ than others. Historical fashions come and go. Some things are unpleasant and swept under the carpet. There are a lot of skeletons (no pun ) in 20th century cupboards.The rRussians kept at least one concentration camp running after it was ‘liberated’. Even today’s governments are uncomfortable with the actions of the British and Irish Governments of the day towards Jewish people.
    The Holocaust still has grim resonance – British, American and Russian Governments sheltered useful war criminals, not just affecting the Space race and medical science, but big business. Modern companies such as IBM, Bayer, and Philips were all involved.
    I think there’s also an element of racism involved in this. Dreadful crimes such as these “aren’t European” … people prefer to think of them as being done in places like Africa and Asia rather than on our own door-step.

  • cg

    Davros

    I agree

  • willowfield

    cg

    I don’t have the exact figures willow but In queens I would hazard a guess at at least a third.

    Nonsense. A third of students at Queen’s are studying history??? Aye, right.

    Even if true, only about 40% (?) of young people attend university, so that’s less than one sixth of young people.

    In general, then, I still say that young people are not very interested in history.

  • cg

    “Nonsense. A third of students at Queen’s are studying history??? Aye, right.”

    Including the other courses that include history, yes, at least a third.

    “In general, then, I still say that young people are not very interested in history.”

    Have you any information to back this up or is this just your opinion?

  • Davros

    That’s excellent poetry Mick.

  • Fraggle

    WF, to be interested in history, you don’t have to study it at university.

  • Mick Fealty

    One of the themes of telling stories rather than looking at the history (though there was an excellent piece in the FT last weekend comapring the Dutch and the Danish responses to the German occupatin), is that we may not have these first hand experiences to go on for much longer. Phil himself is gone a fair while now.

    There’s no point in pretending that poetry is history. But it often brings home of the enormity of certain events that otherwise might only exist on the dry theoretical plane.

  • Davros

    Mick, I read an interesting chapter in History and Memory in Modern Ireland last night about folk memories of the famine. Recommended.

  • Donnie

    Am I just lucky in that my Grandchildren go to a decent school and there parents take their responsibilities seriously.”

    Weimar/Nazi Germany is on the GCSE syllabus both here and in GB. This is pretty much the only area of history kids are interested in unfortunately.

    The popularity of history is very much in the ascendency (look at the number of popular history programmes shown on tv) but probably not amongst teenagers.

  • Ziznivy

    I’ll be visiting Auschwitz at the beginning of April and I expect it to be a harrowing trip. The holocaust isn’t comfortable history, but it carries enough lessons about blind hatred that everyone should study it.