We must never forget.
There have been many times that this phrase has been used in relation to the Holocaust and our duty to teach our children the lessons from our past.
“But how on earth could we possibly forget the Holocaust?” I used to ask myself this question regularly.
The slow rise of racial tension and hatred in pre-Nazi Germany, the increasingly severe persecution of the Jews and other minorities in Nazi Germany, leading ultimately to one of the most horrific episodes in Europe’s history – a genocide that killed more than six million. How could we forget this?
Today, I no longer ask myself this question. I fear that Europe is slowly forgetting the lessons of its past. In fact, the rise of the far and extreme right in modern politics is nothing less than frightening. The results of the recent European Union elections have brought the issue to a head. We saw a far right victory in France and significant gains in Sweden and Greece. The latter’s Golden Dawn party came third with 10 per cent of the vote. This is a party which reportedly has a third of its leadership in prison on charges of running a criminal organisation.
In France in particular, the National Front’s victory should be a warning to all of Europe. Its leader said that she will now fight “crazy measures like votes for immigrants” – just stop and consider the implications of that sentence for a moment.
We have also seen the rise of so-called “Euro-sceptic” parties. There are many of these across European politics now – parties which have built themselves a respectable air, but which continue to tout a rhetoric that can only serve to increase racial tension and stir hatred and prejudice.
Denmark’s Danish People’s Party won its elections touting anti-immigration policy and the curbing of benefits for non-Danish people. In Finland, another “anti-immigration party” also increased its MEPs – the fact this party was previously known as True Finns says a lot.
In the UK, the repugnant far right BNP saw its leader Nick Griffin kicked out of the European Parliament, but we also saw the continuing rise of UKIP.
UKIP is another “Euro-sceptic” party, but we need to remember that this party is led by a man who has said that he wouldn’t want to live next door to Romanians. A view reminiscent of the “No Irish” signs of the past. The party membership is revealing too. We have seen numerous incidents involving its local councillors – the one who called Muslims “devil’s kids” and homosexuality “an abomination before god”, another who complained he could not use the term “Paki” and that gay people are “perverts”.
Commentators have argued that the election results are down to people’s disillusion with both European politics and politics in their home nations and this is partly to blame. Financial austerity and pressure on jobs is also undoubtedly playing a role – issues the far right often preys upon.
But ask yourself this: what kind of society do we live in if people feel that this justifies supporting extremist and racist policy? Many people probably do not see these policies as even being racist, which is more disturbing.
How many of the Nazi party’s political policies during its rise to power might mirror some of those that millions of Europeans have just voted for and supported I wonder?
It is poignant that next week is the 85th anniversary of the birth of Anne Frank (June 12, 1929). The Anne Frank Trust is marking this with a new writing campaign for teenagers, and this is certainly where we must do more – in education.
Anne Frank’s death was due to an electorate and political establishment allowing the rise of the far right. I am not advocating political brainwashing in schools, but it is evident we need to do more to encourage our young people to reflect on our past and the lessons of the Nazi rise to power. Organisations like the Anne Frank Trust and the Holocaust Educational Trust can help us to do this. Ultimately, we all need to recognise the very real dangers that the rise of the far right in 21st century Europe presents to us all.