One in 20 Britons thinks the Holocaust did not happen
Ten years ago, in April 2009, Lynne Mortimer visited the concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland, where humanity towards those who were enslaved or killed stopped at the gate.
As we marked Holocaust Memorial Day (Sunday, January 27) it was revealed that five per cent of UK adults do not believe the Holocaust took place and that one in 12 believes its scale has been exaggerated, a survey has found.
The poll of more than 2,000 people was carried out by Opinion Matters for the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust (HMDT).
Having grown up knowing about the Holocaust - I was born 10 years after the end of the Second World War to parents who were among the generation that first witnessed the horrors of what happened to Jewish people and minority groups such as gay men and Roma in the concentration camps.
In the 1990s I spoke to an Ipswich man who was one of among the liberators of Belsen - the sights he saw had a profound impact on his mental health. Fifty years after the end of the war he was still unable to talk about what he had seen. He talked readily of the carnage he witnessed on the beaches of Normandy, in June 1944 when the allies landed in France but that was warfare. What happened in the Nazi death camps was something else entirely ? it was a operation designed to exterminate a race of people and others who did not fit the Nazi ideal.
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Landing at Krakow airport in April 2009, small pockets of snow still lay on the ground and it was biting cold. A coach took us, a group of secondary school pupils and journalists, to Auschwitz. There, we saw the huts where the prisoners lived. Communal toilets and a lack of proper nourishment and washing facilities allowed disease to run rampant through the huts.
A railway on the site allowed trains with cargoes of human beings to come into the camp. Leave the train and go right and you lived. Go left and it meant death. The chimneys that belched the smoke from the incineration ovens stand as a monument to that unfettered evil.
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Rooms made over to a museum displayed a mountain of shoes in one exhibit, greying hair in another, spectacles in another. All dignity was stripped from the people that arrived here, either to be set to work in local industry or to become victims of a mass extermination such as the world had never before seen. And it really happened; there is no doubt. Contemporary film shot separately by American, British and Russian film makers, plus documentation from the camps are undeniable.
Six million Jews, a quarter of a million people with disabilities, up to 220,000 Roma, hundreds or thousands of homosexuals, around 1,900 Jehovah’s Witnesses, 1.8 million non-Jewish Polish civilians, and seven million Soviet civilians (including 1.3 million Soviet Jews who were also counted in the six million). There were also around three million Soviet prisoners-of-war, 312,000 Serb civilians, and more than 70,000 repeat criminal offenders killed according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (encyclopedia.ushmm.org).
Six million Jews was not the end of it. Altogether, more than 17 million people died for a warped ideology coupled with greed and arrogance.
Could not happen again? It could if we do not acknowledge the lessons of the Holocaust; if we allow our vigilance to falter.