A leading academic at Staffordshire University has expressed concern after it was revealed that one in 20 people in the UK do not believe the Holocaust really happened as shown by the research conducted by the Holocaust Memorial Trust.
Earlier this week, Staffordshire University held a Holocaust Memorial Day, the theme being ‘Torn From Home’, in order to remember the millions that lost their lives in one of the world’s most famous genocides, despite the disbelievers.
Professor Liz Barnes, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of Staffordshire University, started the day with a welcome and reflection speech.
She said: “We welcome everybody, it doesn’t matter your race, your religion, whether you have a disability, whether you’re gay, everybody is welcome and everybody has an important part to play in life.”
She talked clearly about her own experiences in visiting Auschwitz a few years prior.
“One of the things I learned in Auschwitz is that it could have been the people sitting next to you now who could have been the perpetrators, they were your friends one day and then your enemies the next.”
Professor Barnes raised her own concerns about the disbelievers of the Holocaust in our society.
She added: “There are people out there who say that the Holocaust was just a figment of our imagination, it never happened. Well, I’ve been and seen the evidence and I’m pretty convinced its happened. We don’t need convincing.”
The day continued with talks from representatives from different communities within Stoke-on-Trent.
Between 3,000 and 9,000 homosexuals were killed during the Holocaust and the were identified in camps by wearing pink triangles.
Len Stuart, a representative for the LGBT community at Staffordshire University, shared his thoughts on the horrific event.
He said: “The Nazis posed as moral crusaders who wanted to stamp out the vice of homosexuality from Germany in order to help win the racial struggle. The Nazi’s persecuted homosexuals as part of their so called ‘moral crusade’ in order to ‘purify’ Germany.
“Gay men were targeted for persecution because they did not contribute to the desired growth of the Aryan race and were viewed as corrupting the values of German culture.”
Mr. Stuart describe how the Nazi’s conducted experiments on homosexuals in order to attempt to ‘cure’ them of their ‘disorder’ through humiliation and hard work.
Of course, homosexuals were not the only victims affected. Trade unionists were also targeted in the genocide as they attempted to fight for worker’s rights.
Damien Lewis, the finance officer of the LGBTQ+ community at Staffordshire University, also joined the conversation and spoke to us about what the holocaust meant to him.
He said: “So many people lost their lives simply because of who they were, it’s something that we need to reflect on year in and year out. For me, in my own words, the holocaust was a travesty that should have never have happened.
“There were so many people who were repressed, and thats what it was, a repression of people who believed in a different religion, they weren’t an ‘ideal’ person to one man’s view which was blonde hair and blue eyes. If you didn’t fit that mould, then you were out. It’s wrong. What makes everyone so beautiful are those differences.”
Anna, a trade unionist, also spoke at the event. She spoke personally of her Polish uncle who was a 19 year- old political prisoner.
“As trade unionists, we continue to challenge oppression wherever it raises its head,” she said, meeting the gaze of everyone in the crowd.
The number of mentally ill or physically disabled that were put to death by the Nazis were approximately 200,000 people.
Amy Louise Smith, the manager of the disabled students network spoke of her education of the holocaust and how the disabled’s pain, for the most part, went greatly unrecognised.
She said: “Most often we see that disabled people and people who suffer from mental health are pretty much overlooked from the picture. Like many other groups representing here today, previous generations of the mentally and physically disabled were seen as a burden or an imbalance to society and were subjected to atrocious acts.
“The Nazis underestimated the potential of the disabled and this played a significant part in leading to the inevitable downfall of nazism.”
Amy Smith educated the crowd on the work on Alan Turing, the man who cracked the Enigma code during the war which ultimately helped to win the war.
“He was also suspected to have undiagnosed asperges’s syndrome, according to studies that were conducted this century,” Smith said.
Reverend Mick Williams, the senior Chaplin at Staffordshire University, spoke intimately to us about how he thinks the holocaust is still very relevant in today’s age.
He said: “These were ordinary people who did that terrible stuff. They didn’t have horns coming out of their head, they were ordinary. They did it, and if they didn’t directly then they allowed it to happen.
“Seems to me that that still happens today. You look around and there’s always ‘them’, they’re not like us, they don’t think like us, they don’t belong here. Those conversations still happen in schools and in universities and it needs challenging.”
Reverend Williams also spoke about how we, as a community, can help to ensure that such a tragedy can be prevented in the future.
He added: “The thing is, sometimes when people want to help they think ‘I can’t do this massive thing, I can’t change the world, I can’t change anything’. If you can’t change the world, change your neighbourhood. If you can’t change your neighbourhood then work on yourself and your family. Go right back to the very roots.
“Don’t stand by, that’s what a lot of the Jewish people that went to the concentration camps said. They said, ‘It was our friends and our neighbours who handed us in. They all just stood by and didn’t say anything.’
“So don’t stand by. Challenge it. When someone makes some stupid comment in a lecture or a bit of homophobia or a bit of ‘banter’ just say no because that little thing grows and it grows.”
The day finished with a talk from Rabi Martin D. Morris, the president of the Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire Congregation.
He highlighted how vital it is that people still remember this crucial moment in history and that we learn from it.
He said: “It’s important to remember so that it doesn’t happen again. Although it does still happen in smaller cases around the world every few years there’s always a persecution of some group.
“If everybody at school is white, they’ll always pick on, say, the overweight kid or the kid with the glasses. There will always be somebody who picks on somebody else because it makes them feel better. So it must be remembered. Every single time, otherwise it will grow out of control.”
Rabi Morris also talked about his own family history with the holocaust, describing how his grandfather came from Poland in 1897.
He said: “In 1920, he got a postcard from his nephew. So the boy had joined the Polish army in 1920, aged 15, and I don’t even know what his name is because he disappeared during the holocaust, as did so many other relatives.
“But in 1925 they saved up enough money and sent a check to them, every penny they had, to help get them to the UK. It wasn’t enough to get them all and so they decided they would save again. We lost 33 members of our family in one swoop. They all disappeared into camps.”
The day finished with Rabi Morris conducting The Kaddish, a jewish prayer for the departed.
Fiona Wood, a fine arts student at Staffordshire University, had this to say about the holocaust:
“Dehumanising, that’s what it is, the dehumanising of people that to becoming a nothing and when you’re nothing you’re disposable. Just a thing.”