Wednesday 21 December 2022

How England learnt about the German mass murder of the Jews and why it gets much more attention now than in 1945

I just want to make a few things clear: The Holocaust happened. Hitler was a demonic figure. And instead of giving it a platform, our political leaders should be calling out and rejecting antisemitism wherever it hides. Silence is complicity.

77 years after the Second World War it is still the most newsworthy subject in the world.

'There was never any mystery about what had happened to Europe’s Jews. That an estimated 6 million of them were put to death during the Second World War was widely accepted within a few months of the war’s end. The handful of survivors, whether in the displaced persons’ camps or in their countries of origin, paid implicit witness to the number of dead. Of 126,000 Jews removed from Austria, 4,500 returned after the war. In the Netherlands, where there had been 140,000 Jews before the war, 110,000 were deported—of whom fewer than 5,000 returned. In France, of 76,000 (mostly foreign-born) Jews who were deported during the years 1940-44, less than 3 percent survived. Further east, the figures were even worse: of Poland’s pre-war population of over 3 million Jews, fully 97.5 percent were exterminated. In Germany itself, in May 1945, there remained just 21,450 of the country’s 600,000 Jews.'

I quote Tony Judt in the epilogue to his Postwar (2005), a book I recommend highly, even though I dislike his left-wing politics. 

In it he said that recognition of the Holocaust is what Heine called baptism in 1825, 'the European entry ticket' and was required from countries like Poland and Romania before they were admitted to the EU.

The theme of Postwar is "the withering away of the 'master narratives' of European history": Christianity, national greatness or Marxism. Two hundred years after the French Revolution, the "cycle of ideological politics in Europe was drawing to a close" he wrote, but the book is a monument to the ideology that has replaced the others: the ideology of anti-racism, non-discrimination and equality of opportunity.

The Holocaust, as it then wasn't called, was discussed much, much less when I was at school than now, though more after an American TV series called Holocaust, which popularised the term, was broadcast.

The history of how the Holocaust was perceived from 1945 to today is central to the history of Europe and her colonies on other continents.

A history of antiracism from 1945 would be the most useful book anyone could write.

I said this to a very famous British historian (a Philosemite and Brexiteer) whom I know. He replied, 'You are inviting me to throw away my career'.

For Tony Judt the crimes of the National Socialists are worse than those of the Communists and the memory of the Holocaust is the foundation of the European Union and European civilisation. 

'If in years to come we are to remember why it seemed so important to build a certain sort of Europe out of the crematoria of Auschwitz, only history can help us. The new Europe, bound together by the signs and symbols of its terrible past, is a remarkable accomplishment; but it remains forever mortgaged to that past. If Europeans are to maintain this vital link—if Europe’s past is to continue to furnish Europe’s present with admonitory meaning and moral purpose—then it will have to be taught afresh with each passing generation. ‘European Union’ may be a response to history, but it can never be a substitute.'

Racism, not Communism, is the threat to the world.

Judt also quotes Bavarian Christian Social leader Franz-Josef Strauss saying in 1969 ‘A people that has achieved such remarkable economic success has the right not to have to hear anymore about “Auschwitz” and writes about how the Holocaust was not much discussed for decades after the war. 

Back in 1939 the English fought Hitler because he invaded the Czech part of Czecho-Slovakia and Poland, not because of his racism. Nor was the plight of the Jews the focus of English attention when Auschwitz was liberated in 1944.

I found on the net a dissertation written for an MA degree by one Paul David Mosley which tells when and how the British press informed readers about what is now called the Holocaust.

"The first report which indicated that the Nazis intended to exterminate European Jewry arrived in London at the end of May 1942. It reached the exiled Polish Government in London from the Jewish Bund (an underground socialist party in Poland) and summarised the details of the Holocaust thus far, including the locations, dates and methods of the killings as well as the number of Jewish dead: 700,000 in all. The Bund report described how, with the onset of the German invasion of the Soviet Union, 'the Germans embarked on the physical extermination of the Jewish population on Polish soil'."

An footnote of interest to Romanians adds:

"In fact reports had actually been printed in British newspapers well before the Bund report had reached the West, but they were not viewed by the press to have been the result of a Nazi plan to exterminate Europe's Jews. Furthermore, such reports were sporadic and were not very prominent. Journalists interpreted the killings as pogroms and they had not yet realised that a systematic campaign of mass murder was already underway. Thus the London Sunday Times correspondent in Turkey reported accurately in April 1942 that 120,000 Romanian Jews had been murdered, but it was only later that this particular massacre was properly interpreted as part of the Nazis' campaign to utterly destroy Europe's Jews. On 16 May, an Evening Standard correspondent located in Stockholm reported that 60,000 Jews from the Polish City of Vilna had been shot at a nearby railway station. Again, there was little attention given to this by the press."

The Daily Telegraph on 25 June 1942 reported that 
“Germans murder 700,000 Jews in Poland” on page 5 of six pages in the issue. [The tragic story of the story is here in the Guardian.]

Five days later The Times, near the bottom of the third column on page 2, had an article headlined MASSACRE OF JEWS - OVER 1,000,000 DEAD SINCE THE WAR BEGAN.

In 1944 the concentration camps were liberated by the Soviet army and more was learnt.

"On 4 December, in a 112-line article at the top of page eight, which was located under the arresting headline PLIGHT OF THE JEWS: Mass Annihilation, the Guardian declared: 'In each of his last two speeches Hitler proclaimed with defiant certainty that by the time the war was over, and whatever its outcome, Europe would be rid of its Jews. This was no empty statement.' The article went on to say that the extermination of the Jews was being carried out despite the labour shortage in Germany's war industries, and cited figures obtained from 'underground Polish groups' which indicated that the Nazis had already killed over 1,250,000 Jews. In October of the same year the Guardian had published an article which similarly attested to the veracity of the reports which stated that a plan existed to exterminate European Jewry."

Stories about the murder of a million Hungarian Jews were reported in 1944, on inside pages.

The discovery of Auschwitz in January 1945 was covered and a Soviet commission's announcement that four million prisoners had been killed there, but the report was not given prominence because reports from Communist Russia were not taken at face value. 

Indeed the figure of four million murdered at Auschwitz was very inaccurate, as all historians now agree. 1.3 million, of whom 960,000 were Jews, are the numbers Wikipedia states.

"It was not until the disclosures at the Nuremberg trials that the full extent of Hitler's racial policies became clear, including the role that the Auschwitz death camp had played in the extermination of the Jews....The fact that Britain was in a state of war meant that the press was predominantly interested in the progress of the conflict as it affected Britain's military and domestic interests, encapsulated in the popular slogan: 'the people's war'. [This was still true in the 1970s.] And war news was, of course, likely to overshadow reports about the suffering of people in foreign countries who were (nominally) citizens of an enemy country. This was evident when on 6 July 1944 when the Daily Telegraph gave greater emphasis in its double headline to the subject of flying bombs than to the extermination of Hungarian Jewry."

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