Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Remember, Reflect, React

It may be me, but after a couple of low-key Shoah Memorial Days (when the Muslims were boycotting) the events seem to have been ramped back up now they're back on board. My views on the commemoration (summarised as 'killing people is bad' and 'the Germans did it') are unchanged.

It's the use to which the Shoah is put which concerns me. The Brits didn't need a memorial day for fifty-odd years after WW2. It seems to have been only in the last ten years that it's been considered that we need to 'Remember, Reflect, React' - though for longer than that the Nazis have been the staple of school history. As long as our rulers feel that we need to be reminded of the evil of the Mail or Sun's views on asylum and immigration, the drum will continue to be banged and schoolchildren will continue to make unpleasant remarks to German exchange visitors.

Not that anyone nowadays is tasteless enough to mention Germany. You can search the BBC scripts (someone spells 'lectern' 'lecturn') without finding anything about the country except as the birthplace of Anne Frank and Dietrich Bonhoeffer (and notice the missing human rights elephant in the list of post-WW2 disasters ). The 'G-word' is banned from the script and the 'N-word' (Nazis) is everywhere.

But this isn't a campaign about anti-semitism. No one seriously envisages hordes of blackshirted Brits roaming the streets looking for suitable windows to smash. Any potential smashers or beaters up of Jews are likely to come from quite another quarter. It is, I'm sorry to say, all about 'us' - 'us' in this case being the natives.

This isn't to imply that we shouldn't remember the lessons of history. I've been reading Hew Strachan's one-volume 'The First World War', a somewhat revisionist history (i.e. not all the generals are donkeys) which focuses on the wider conflicts - Africa, the Far East, the Eastern Front, Middle East and Balkans - rather than the fields of Flanders. One of the points he makes is that, of all European and Russian Jews, those of Germany were uniquely integrated. Pre-War writers like Nachum Goldmann were well in tune with the zeitgeist, describing the military spirit as the means to human progress, because it combined equality of opportunity with meritocracy. Walter Rathenau, described by Churchill as 'Germany's faithful servant' (and after the War murdered by anti-semites), organised industrial production as Albert Speer was to do twenty five years later. There's a wonderful/sad photo in the book, which I'll post when broadband's back, of uniformed German soldiers gathered round a menorah, celebrating Hanukkah in Poland in December 1916. What were their fates twenty-five years later ?

Strachan quotes the conductor Otto Klemperer, a member of the Eastern army's press section, on the Jews of Poland and Russia :

'No, I did not belong to these people, even if one proved my blood relation to them a hundred times over. I belonged to Europe, to Germany, and I thanked my Creator I was German'.

Alas not everybody in Germany thought he was as integrated as he himself did. You can see why one might be wary - very wary - of any nationalisms after that. I've read a lot of stuff in the past few weeks about how well all the different tribes in Kenya lived together before the recent unpleasantnesses.

And that's the point. Our government are worried about how all the different tribes in the UK will get on. Hence the dire warnings. Strangely, they seem convinced that it's the natives who are most at risk of packing cattle trucks or doing some quick machete work. I'd disagree.

They could of course try to reverse, or at least slow down, the tribalisation of Britain - by which I mean the proliferation of disparate ethic/religious/cultural groups with no common culture - surely not a recipe for harmony in Kenya, Kent or Kathmandu. But I think an increased "educational" effort in the schools is far more likely.