Those that fail to learn from history,
are doomed to repeat it.
I’m going to throw a few numbers around, if I may and this may turn into something of a lecture. For which I make no apology whatsoever.
I’ve been working on BMJ for 22 years this July. 49 years ago, England won the World Cup. The first Star Wars film was released 38 years ago. Britain started using metric currency 44 years ago. It’s been 55 years since John F Kennedy wiped the floor with Richard Nixon on TV to become President of the United States, the same year that To Kill a Mocking Bird was published and Mack the Knife topped the US charts.
All these events don’t seem that far away in the great scheme of things.
When I think of these dates, and how close some of these events seem to me and what’s happened in my lifetime, it seems more astounding than ever that yesterday we commemorated the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. The testimonies of the soldiers who liberated this and the other camps – some extermination camps like Auschwitz and Treblinka, others labour camps like Bergen-Belsen, Dachau and Buchenwald – make for powerful and profoundly disturbing reading.
70. Seventy. Seven-Zero. My mother-in-law is 74. How could something like that have been in her lifetime? How could such things have happened only 70 years ago? How could such things have been done by human beings to other human beings, only 70 years ago?
As a 14 year old I read a book called Holocaust, which told the story of Germany before, during and after the war and the Holocaust from two different points of view – those of a young Jewish boy who survives the Holocaust, though most of his family perish, and a young German boy who joins the SS. It had a profound and lasting effect on me. That was also the year my parents took me to visit the landing beaches and the cemeteries of Normandy, the sight of which, even now, never fail to put a lump in my throat.
As we head into the General Election’s final three months, there will be rhetoric, accusations and promises flying about from politicians of all hues. So much of it will have as its basis the promise that by voting for Tom, or Dick or Harriet (or, God forbid, Nigel) we will be richer and, by extension, happier. Seriously, we don’t know how lucky we are.
I watched the news footage of the commemoration yesterday, hanky in hand, as well as the superlative The Eichmann Show on BBC2 the other day (the dramatisation of the televised trial of Adolf Eichmann. Watch it on iPlayer, I urge you). Both brought home to me how very little, really, we have to complain about.
Never forget. Never let it happen again.