Lindsey German, author of How A Century of War Changed the Lives of Women (Pluto, 2013) has written a feature for the Morning Star in recognition of Holocaust Memorial Day. We have reproduced a section of the article below. You can read the full thing on the Morning Star website, here.
Some years ago I visited Berlin and stayed with friends in the peaceful suburb of Grunewald.
As the name suggests, it is a wooded, leafy area, with mostly expensive houses and apartment blocks scattered among lakes and trees.
Its little railway station was also, as my friend described to me, the place where Berlin Jews were rounded up and put on trains to be sent to the concentration camps.
Today the names of those victims are inscribed in some of the railway sleepers, as a constant reminder of the horror which began there.
Grunewald was chosen, I was told, precisely because it was away from the city centre, and so less likely to be noticed.
There are thousands of such memorials scattered across much of Europe, evoking memories of Jews sent to concentration camps from France, the Netherlands, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Italy.
Every country occupied by the nazis saw its Jews persecuted, segregated and then usually deported.
There are some events in history which are so terrible that, if they were portrayed in a work of fiction, would be regarded as literally incredible.
The story of the Holocaust is perhaps the most obvious of these.
It is so spine-chilling and horrific that it seems hard for most people to imagine it, let alone accept that it was carried out with industrial precision.
When Hitler first came to power in 1933, the Jews were his main scapegoats.
However, they were not necessarily the first people to be persecuted.
In 1933, the nazis ensured that their first victims were members of trade unions, socialist and communist organisations, who were brutally crushed.
In the months after Hitler came to power, 100,000 Germans were arrested, often tortured and killed. Many more were sacked from their jobs.
The effect was to destroy the left organisations so that by the late 1930s, apart from small secret groups which were able to meet, communist and socialist organisation had been wiped out.
This took out the most political and organised opposition to the nazis.
The laws introduced by the nazis ensured that Jews, Roma, homosexuals and those with physical and mental disabilities were targeted, subject to a series of restrictive laws and in the case of Jews eventually placed in ghettos, from where they could more easily be deported to the camps.
The end result we know — six million Jews died in the concentration camps, plus millions more other victims.
Those who survived were scarred physically and mentally as a result of their experiences, and millions more were forced into exile.
The question that sprang to my mind in Grunewald that day and which so many have asked in the nearly 70 years since the camps were liberated is — how could this have happened in our time?
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