Holocaust Memorial Day: Why it’s Important to Keep on Remembering

Today, January 27th, is International Holocaust Memorial Day. Chosen specifically on the day that the death camp Auschwitz was liberated many years ago, the day is a time of remembrance for all genocides, throughout our recent history.

It is scary to think that the concept of a ‘holocaust’ or the act of genocide did not end with the liberation of Nazi-run death camps, and the consequent persecution of many of the perpetrators. A lot of intelligent, well-read people, still do not understand the horrors that later occurred in Rwanda, Bosnia, and Cambodia, for example.

Genocide has devastated millions of people throughout history, and continues to affect the lives of relatives and friends, of the loved ones they lost. We might pride ourselves as a society now capable of spotting the ‘warning signs’ of a genocidal regime. How can such acts go amiss and ignored, with things like social media and the news covering every corner of the globe? The sad thing is, it does.

During my first year of university, I took a class called ‘The Holocaust in History’. While most of the module was focused on the Nazi persecution of European Jews, and other alleged ‘undesirables’, the last class focused on the question ‘is the Holocaust unique?’ Of course, every death is unique. Every life touches different people in a different way, and their death cannot be compared in this respect. However, we then preceded to look at more recent genocides, those that Western society has either ignored, or not given much attention to. This idea of pigeon-holing a group of people, and preying upon them from a position of power, is not new. When things get tough, society needs a scapegoat.

This brings me to my main point, and title: why it’s important to keep on remembering. Genocide is current: it is now, and it has not been eradicated. I’m sure we’re all aware of the Trump/Hitler comparisons that have been dominating the media since his arrival into the mainstream. In just a week of being in office, and in control of one of the most powerful nations on the planet, the bills, policies, and even just verbal statements he has made are ludicrously scary. Hitler didn’t marginalise the Jews overnight; it took years of propaganda and conditioning his people to make them feel like it was a valid thing to do, to place them in ghettos, and then later work and death camps. Already Trump is calling for immigrants to be ‘registered’ separately if that have committed a crime, saying that millions voted illegally, and has guaranteed his promise of a wall along the Mexican border. Sound familiar?

Today, perhaps more than ever, it is especially important to take this time to remember the victims of the Holocaust. Whilst it may be uncomfortable and upsetting, it is essential to realise that this is unfortunately something that humanity as a whole is capable of, not just one person acting alone.

For more information visit hmd.org.uk

 

When Life Gives You Lemons…You Read About Them

With summer well and truly underway, I’ve been trying to catch up on some reading…in between working five days a week of course! Being a literature student means I have to read a lot, very fast; and you can’t always fully enjoy these books knowing that a 2,500 word essay worth 50% of your grade is attached to it. Therefore, whenever I get the chance, I like to read something a little different. A bit more fun, more relaxed, and certainly not related to any sort of meta essay question.

Whilst browsing the library the other week, I came across a book in the travel literature section titled ‘The Land Where Lemons Grow’, by Helena Attlee. It has good reviews from reputable sources, so I decided to give it a chance. Oh, and it’s about the lemon gardens of Italy, a country with which I have a slight obsession with.

I’ve been reading the book for a little over a week now, and I can genuinely say I’m really enjoying it. It doesn’t follow a traditional narrative structure, and each chapter jumps around in different parts of Italy where lemons are the root of their culture. Attlee explores the history, and in a way the future of these special citrus gardens and their importance to Italian heritage. However, she does it in a way that isn’t ‘articly’ or long-winded; an entire book about Italian citrus fruit may sound boring, but Attlee surprises you with connections to the Mafia, WW2, even important scientific discoveries. After just a few chapters, you’ll have a strange new-found respect…for lemons!

Each page transports to the lemon scented gardens of Italy, basking in the beautiful sunshine and supplying endless amounts of Limoncello. The book works well in those days where summer seems to be over here in England, and also for the days where the heat comes blazing back. To all in need of a refreshing, relaxing summer read, I’d definitely recommend. However, be warned – you may find yourself frantically loading up SkyScanner to find the next flight out to Italy!

 

 

 

Understanding America and its European Roots

Before coming to America, I had never seen so many people so keen to show off their European heritage. Sure, people from Europe are happy about where they come from, in a general sense, but I’ve never heard it said with such pride. This is also despite the fact that a lot of American who state this, have never been to Europe themselves.

Here, being ‘European’ seems to mean something very different, and people are quick to tell you where their ancestors come from. Their grandparents nationality becomes their own, even though they are American citizens, have been raised in America, and sometimes have never visited their ‘home’ country. Being from Europe, this is baffling for me, as I’m sure it is for many other Europeans alike. For example, my grandparents are Spanish and I have a Spanish name, but I do not identify as Spanish…why would I? I cannot speak the language, have never lived there, and know only a limited view of the culture. Yet, if I were American, would be I saying something different?

After living here a couple of months, and being used to hearing the ‘Oh you’re from England? My uncle once visited London’ comments, I’ve tried to put myself in the shoes of an average American, and understand their strong grip on European culture.

We all know that the America we see today is a ‘young’ nation, compared to the long stretching history of other places around the world. It made me wonder how I would feel if all my relatives, and all my friends relative were from other countries, and you knew you were still at the beginning of a race of ‘pure’ Americans, whatever that may mean.

Having discussed this with my European friends here in the States, it seems I am not the only one to have noticed the American’s fondness for a European connection. I have many people in my classes that label themselves as German or Polish, when they are clearly not, at least not in the way that I would recognise anyway. This concept of being patriotic and proud to be an American, whilst also boasting of being Polish, European descent is very confusing to an outsider like myself. Whilst I do not know many Polish people, I am sure that if I were to place a person from Poland next to an American saying they is ‘Polish’, the differences in culture would be vast and they’d actually have little in common. The person from Poland may also be offended that a technical American is claiming to be Polish.

Again, however, I do not know how it feels to live in country where so much of the history originates outside of the nation. And I know enough to understand that whilst someone may be an American citizen, this does not mean that they disregard their French or Italian or German ancestry. Perhaps, in a way, most Europeans ‘have it easier’. Most of us are clear in our lineage, and the place we call ‘home’ has always been home for most of our family line. The fact that I have Spanish grandparents is somewhat a rarity in England – in the town where I grew up in, most of the third generations were born there too. However, this is not the case for a lot of Americans. You get a ‘melting pot’ of many different cultures in a lot of big cities, combining their traditions to get the diverse American identity.

In response to those American’s who I meet who tell me that they ‘once visited Manchester’ (which, in case you didn’t know, is many many miles me…in fact I’ve never been) when I reveal my British accent, I’ve come to learn that this is mostly to do with the size of our country. In comparison to the U.S.A., the U.K. is tiny – to an outsider everything must look so close together and in that case why hasn’t everyone visited Buckingham Palace or Stonehenge? Reverse the roles, and we’d probably get a strange look if we told a new Californian acquaintance that we went to New York last year on a city break. Anyone that knows the cities will know that they differ dramatically, so the statement would be somewhat irrelevant.

The European connection is just another one of the many things I am learning about American culture. Being an American Studies student, I would have thought I would have heard something about their views on this before, instead of just about how patriotic the country is. However, I suppose a European professor cannot teach a class of Europeans how Americans feel about their roots here. They have never stood in their shoes and felt what means to be part of a ‘new’ nation and its pioneering attitude, even today. We all need something ‘familiar’ to hold on to, and for many Americans, that ‘familiar’ is also ours – Europe.