Friday, 24 January 2020

Bergen-Belsen

I recently watched the BBC4 film about Jewish survivors from the Bergen-Belsen Nazi concentration camp in northern Germany. 

 

Between 1943 and 1945 52,000 inmates perished there and 20,000 Russian POWs. It was where Anne Frank died.

 

We heard from Peter Lantos, Zdenka Fatlova, Maurice Blik, Mala Tribich, Anita Lasker-Walfisch, Geria Turgeb. It seems to me important to name the few still living since we cannot name the many who died.

 

The camp was liberated by British - Canadian troops and I watched the film. wondering if I would see my father. He was one of the British army doctors who arrived there on 15 April 1945. I remember he told me that thousands died after they arrived, many from typhus, TB and dysentry, then many more from being fed high calorie rations too quickly. As a physician, he felt a guilt and responsibility for this terrible failure.

 

When he was an old man I asked him what had happened to the photos he had kept of the emaciated survivors. He told me that he had thrown them away. I was shocked because he had documented the reality of fascism, but knowing the man, perhaps he wanted to remove the memory altogether. When I was a small boy I used to take them from the bottom drawer of his his desk, spread them on the floor and stare at these skeletal humans in horror.

 

I have spent my life affected by those photographs of bones breaking through parchment skin, eyes bulging from their sockets, a pleading despair. 

 

I have never thrown away any of that and have honoured their memory as an active socialist and anti-racist.

 

It is popular to say ‘Never Again’, but this is just a hope and genocides have continued in one form or another throughout my life. To those two words we must add two more that demand our action. Taken from the fight against fascism in Franco's Spain they are, No Pasarán.

 


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