Please find below the text of a speech I made in the Scottish Parliament for the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and a clip of this speech. Thank you.
Thank you to Paul O’Kane MSP for this annual opportunity to renew our remembrance through reflection and witness.
This becomes ever more pressing year by year as the generation who lived through the holocaust passes. Their witness must never be lost with them.
The Holocaust is History’s greatest horror. The confluence of ancient hatred and industrial modernity.
The fullest expression of nationalism given form by an efficient, ruthless state that tore down the doors of family, of faith and of fraternity replaced the human dignity of the soul with collated lists of category, of statistics, of method and calculated means. That project begat the most notorious statistic of all – six million dead.
Theodor Adorno said in 1949 “to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric”.
Where could beauty be found in a world capable of such horror?
Was it not trite to find form and whimsy to seek prose?
How do you write about the Holocaust?
That was a question that the late novelist Martin Amis who died in May this last year walked around for most of his career. A father to Jewish children the holocaust gained ever greater salience in his writing. His 2014 novel the Zone of Interest features the idyllic life of the concentration camp commander and his wife just over the wire.
Of course we all live over that wire – for days or even months we can avert our eyes yet we cannot avoid, as they could not, the stench of decay.
The holocaust draws writers and readers in ever greater numbers. Popular books such as the Tattooist of Auschwitz or films such as One Life accounting for the heroic service of Nicholas Winton and the Kindertransport opens the hearts and minds of audiences.
It poses the biggest and most essential of questions. How? Why? and, most urgently and repeatedly, Again?
It was in Amis’ Zone of Interest that I first encountered this quote from WG Sebald on the holocaust
“No serious person ever thinks of anything else.”
Martin Amis wrote of the exceptionalism of the Third Reich. It is our duty as elected politicians to see glimpses of it everywhere. Does our state stray too far? Will AI make racism ever more efficient? Is our justice blind? Are we free?
On Tuesday night the German Consul General recalled in this parliament the first expulsion in 1938 of the Jewish Poles in what is known as ‘Poleknation’. She was carrying the most solemn duty of the German state.
She also told us of the hundreds of thousands of Germans in recent days on the streets of their cities and towns standing in the face of rising fascism and the far right of nationalism of ethnic hatred of economic alienation and of time looping, of history repeating. Never again. Never again.
We speak today in the livid aftermath of the largest and most deadly assault on Jews since the Holocaust. Hamas slaughtered the innocent, they raped and they tortured 1200 Jews because they were Jews. They did so in the hopeful knowledge of the horror that would be visited on their own innocent Palestinian people.
History tells us that we cannot give up on peace – no matter how remote and forlorn it feels. That is our remembrance.