Eine Frage des nationalen Gedenkens und Vergessens. A question of national memorization and forgetting

Potentieller Ort des Shoa Memorials neben der Tate. |Potential location of the shoa memorial next to Tate Britain.
Potentieller Ort des Shoa Memorials neben der Tate. |Potential location of the shoa memorial next to Tate Britain.

GERMAN: In London wird eine nationale ‪#‎Holocaust‬ Gedenkstätte gebaut. Man will dabei nicht sparsam mit den Fehlern des eigenen Landes sein. Doch manche wundern sich über das Vergessen einer Geschichte die viel mehr mit Entscheidungen London zu tun haben!
ENGLISH:  In London a holocaust memorial is to be set up. Britain warrants not to be economical with the truth and British mistakes. But some observers note that another history whose decisions were actually made from within London has not yet got appropriate remembrance.


ENGLISH TRANSLATION (ALL RIGHTS RESERVED) (slightly altered with original quotes)

This text in a slightly shorter version was first published in German in the Juedische Allgemeine 14th April 2015:

Two months ago the British government announced, that it would make available the equivalent of around 67 million Euros for the construction of a national Holocaust memorial in London. Consultations concerning this proposal which brought together experts and survivors had gone on in the previous year. Amongst others they felt that too many different organizations had sought to obtain funding for holocaust related memorialisation. With the planned national memorial site the research and the remembrance are to be better managed and administered.

The new memorial site will be fitted with an integral educational centre using the latest technology. As a first and pressing step, survivor testimonies of the still living witnesses are to be recorded for posterity.

Despite the liberation of the concentration camp Bergen-Belsen through the British Army and the Allied victory 70 years ago, Great Britain’s image at the memorial site is not to be shown triumphantly, argues the Jewish historian David Ceserani, who was also privy of the consultation.
Ceserani said in particluar:

It would be essential to show how Britain was involved in the fate of Europe’s Jews in the 1930s and 1940s and that in doing so it would also be absolutely necessary to confront the negative elements of the story.

In the historical preamble, the report mentions the appeasement of Nazi Germany, the grudging response to the refugee crisis, domestic anti-Semitism and fascism,  internment, the closing of the Jewish national home to Jewish fugitives from Europe, and the patchy response to information about the mass murder of Jews during the war. The report in absolutely clear that the learning centre, which will be organically connected to the memorial, will present an honest appraisal of Britain’s relationship to the fate of the Jews and that it will not be ‘triumphalist’. Equally, the educational programme that will be developed over time will encourage young people to dwell on the ambiguities of the British response to Jewish suffering. It will not be a ‘whitewash’.”

Kurt Marx (c) Daniel Zylbersztajn

A group of aged holocaust survivors at the holocaust survivor centre Shalvata, the only such institution in the UK, welcomed the announcement to build a national Holocaust memorial site. Kurt Marx (89), who grew up in Cologne, and had fled with the Kindertransport to England, argues it should be a place that remembers and shows what evil humans are capable of performing. “In the beginning many thought Hitler was only a madman and he would not stay for long. But what he did, in spite of the fact that Germany understood itself as a civil society, “says Marx.
Marx is grateful to Britain for his rescue. But he remembers, that many Britons made no difference between him a German Jew and Nazis at the beginning,. Even today this would continue. At Shalvata he is not allowed to speak German, as it might upset some other attendees.

Belgian-born Sarah Espinoza, who escaped the Nazis just before the outbreak of war “on the last boat across the Channel to England”, as she says, reports shockingly how she spotted a sign during a recent visit to Belgium which read : “No Dogs and No Jews!” This is evidence that rampant anti-Semitism continues, she argues. “If you do not drum it into the heads of people, the Shoah will be forgotten and one day history may repeat itself,” fears the 90-year-old.

Chaim Olmert, Shoaueberlebender | Shoa survivor Chaim Olmert (c) Daniel Zylbersztajn
Chaim Olmert, Shoaueberlebender | Shoa survivor Chaim Olmert (c) Daniel Zylbersztajn

Chaim Olmert (87), survivor of numerous labour and concentration camps, demands, that the new centre will depict the Holocaust in all its complexity. He states how his wife’s family had been arrested by the British during their attempt to escape to Palestine and sent to prison in Mauritius instead. He adds, “It is important that the Holocaust is not thrown together with other genocides in the same pot, because it was a unique chapter in human history,” admonishes Olmert.

Where exactly the memorial will be located is as yet not entirely clear. Currently there are three possible locations however: Near Tower Bridge, next to the Tate Britain Gallery and in front of the Imperial War Museum. The suggested sites follow other findings from the commission concerning the holocaust memorial site, for many survivors were unhappy with the current London Holocaust monument erected in Hyde Park in 1983. They believe it to be too small and rather distanced from the centre of town.
But another group would rather welcome a memorial in Hyde Park. The former history teacher Oku Ekpenyon (69), she received an MBE for her initiative on African and Black history, has been campaigning for the erection of a monument in Hyde Park to commemorates the victims of the slave trade since 2002. In fact 2008 Ekpenyon received assurances from the London Mayor Boris Johnson hereto, but the project has been stalled ever since due of a lack of funds.

Model of the slavery memorial that was planned for Hyde Park | Modellbüste  des Sklavenhandeldenkmals
Model of the slavery memorial that was planned for Hyde Park | Modellbüste des Sklavenhandeldenkmals

Now that the government has announced,  it intends to finance a Holocaust memorial, Ekpenyon wrote a letter to Prime Minister David Cameron, asking for government help: “The government claims it wishes to remember the human suffering of the Jews during the the Holocaust. With a fraction of the sum intended for the Holocaust Memorial, you can ensure that there is also a site that reflects on the time of slavery and the price African people paid for the development of this nation. ”

Star Wars actor Hugh Quarshie, one of the patrons of the slavery memorial campaign, argued:

“I think there should be a Memorial in every major capital city, just as there are tombs to The Unknown Soldier.  It is not simply appropriate and important but essential because it would signify universal recognition that the attempted extermination of one group of human beings by another group of human beings is not just wrong but an absolute evil.  We talk about The Holocaust because it it is still within living memory, was strategically planned, systematically executed and perpetrated by a nation claiming to be at the highest rank of civilisation, and extensively documented, recorded and even filmed. The word Holocaust is not to be used lightly; there are gradations ranging from mass murder to ‘ethnic cleansing’, to genocide.  But it is my hope that such memorials would also testify to the atrocities of earlier holocausts not so extensively documented, but no less extensive in their scale or their atrocity: the near extermination of the indigenous people of South America by the Conquistadores, recorded by Bartolomeo de las Casas in his anguished Account of the Destruction of The Indies; and of course the Transatlantic Slave Trade.  We can only estimate how many millions died during the crossings or were brutalised and worked to death after arrival. This was brutality on an industrial scale, carried out by nations claiming to be among the most sophisticated on earth; but there have been no apologies made or reparations paid.  And it is precisely because there are no living witnesses that we need memorials to these horrors.”
Freddie Knoller (Foto HMT, mit Erlaubnis)
Freddie Knoller (Foto HMT, mit Erlaubnis)

The 93-year-old Auschwitz survivor Freddy Knoller, born in Vienna, understands this. His greatest fear, he says, is oblivion and indifference – especially when the survivors will no longer be there. He sees the planned Holocaust Memorial as an important  reminder to democracy, because something like the Holocaust could only rise out of dictatorship. Freddy Knoller’s lead for the memorial is however far more humane, “Let us love one another, not murder,” the old man begs, who has been himself, he claims, a life long optimist. “I never gave up!”