Picture: monument in memory of Janusz Korczak at Yad Vashem in Israel
Nothing can be more powerful and moving, than the personal story. It is this personal story that should inform the political narrative. It is this, these, the personal stories of individual people, that give us the truest understanding of and harmony with"the people." Group-think is a sharing, not of ideas, but of a lack of ideas, as if only the left-overs or dregs of ideas are available after or because of, mass distribution. It is the notion and practice of group-think, that is at the heartlessness, rather than the heart, of most of the ideologies and mass movements of a dictatorial and genocidal sort, that have governed, governed the minds, thus the organs of government, of so many countries.
And no more personal a story, than survival of the Holocaust, can possbly, no, surely, be told. I have just listened, this weekend, to the account of a wonderful, inspirational man, Manfred Goldberg, Holocaust survivor, on London based, yet Global broadcast company, LBC radio, interviewed by the thinker and broadcaster, Maajid Nawaz.
Maajid Nawaz has made a journey from radical Islamism, to political liberalism. The Quilliam Foundation, now called just Quilliam, he co-founded and is a driving force behind, seeks to put behind, us all, and peacefully combat, extremism. His bravery, in having been in jail for five years, in an Egyptian prison, during his years of youthful radicalisation, his own telling of the tale, as a result, in the years that followed, has meant, his personal story is always in itself, worth listening to. As one might expect, from someone whose younger years and own experiences of racism, also meant physically violent attacks on him, including recently being assaulted, his is a strong voice, from an intense personality. But as with any of us naturally gregarious, outgoing, or able to communicate, so too, there is room for subtlety and reflection and quiet. Whereas, as a host, he is vociferous, he also knows when to, well, just shut up!
When you have as your guest, a man of nearly ninety, with an emotional tale like that of Manfred Goldberg, to tell, keeping quiet, listening and thus, learning, is what you must do. It is what Maajid Nawaz did. Manfred Goldgerg has just been awarded the British Empire Medal, for services to Holocaust education, and, for indeed, a life well lived. For in particular, Mr. Goldberg speaks to and visits schools, for example, in association with the Holocaust Educational Trust, a UK based organisation, that in a truly broad and dedicated way, does exactly that, educates about the Holocaust. A victim of that blight on the history of humanity, from a very early age, he is a survivor of various camps. His tale is not one I can tell, but he does. It is his story far more than it is history. He is here to tell the tale. And he does so in a way, so measured in his delivery, so poignant in the message. But soon he, and all who can tell their stories, no longer shall, for they shall not be with us.
When the great Steven Spielberg made Schindler's List, a man thus far all too engaged in the day to day passion, almost obsession, that filmmaking was to him, he changed, or developed.This brilliant talent for making films, and in the movie world, became aligned to a committed interest in making impact, within the wider world. His Shoah project that followed the making of his superb film, of Oscar Schindler's individual story, was the recording, on film, of the individual tales of Holocaust survivors, personal stories, each. He, Spielberg, reveals what we all, every one of us, should realise, the personal must inform the political, the individual must shape the social. The Holocaust is the true story of an ideology that had only room for group-think, in which individuals were seen as only part of groups, and in which smaller groups were subordinate to larger groups, as surely as human beings were stripped of their humanity and dignity. No better antidote to this, years later, can be possible, than that through the testimony, of individuals, we enhance humanity, ensure dignity, and enrich individuality.
Manfred Goldberg is one man amongst many. But just as in the war that was fought to free him, the earliest and in a sense, bravest fighters then, who fought while fewer countries did, were called the first of the few, he is amongst the last of the few here, to tell the tale, so we can yet hear. They are a crucial part of history, although they are not quite yet themselves history, for they are the survivors, whose stories, story, we can hear, while they, he, Manfred Goldberg and other survivors, remain with us. We can hear of the many, but sometimes it is to listen to the few, that is important. Antisemitism is on the rise. I have written about it several times in recent times, not least for this site and Ustinov Forum. Manfred Goldberg is all too astonished by this rise. Maajid Nawaz is all too aware of it. Both have spoken about it and often, all too often, would that it were not so. But therein lies the problem. The liars. Another few, the haters, the distorters, the peddlars of myths not out of story books, but of lies that are more false than any fiction, seek to rewrite history. When it comes to Mr. Goldberg, they seek to erase his story. But we heard and continue to hear his story. We can listen to those stories recorded in the Shoah project of Steven Spielberg. The Holocaust Educational Trust in the UK and others like it in the US and in other countries, shall continue to invite the suvivors to tell the true stories, of the truest horror story more horrible than any, that of the Holocaust.
The concern has always been, that we never forget. A recent opinion poll in the UK, and there have been several in many countries with similar or worse findings, has recently found, five per cent of people polled think the Holocaust did not happen. Greater numbers think it exagerated. Figures, in polls, like incidents, in attacks, are more worrying, in France. Movements, growing, on the far right and far left, in various countries, are giving fuel to the fire of antisemitic tropes, the very lies, distortions, expanded, into a new or revived, modern or rebranded, antisemitism. I shall not rehash the arguments against this rewrite of history, of decency. It is all on film, we have it all in recordings. We've got the tapes!
How can you, never forget, what you did not know, and therefore, could not remember? Only education, can give us the truth. And only by becoming aware, can we combat the lies. A great educator, children's soryteller, and radio broadcaster, Janusz Korczak, died in Treblinka. A Polish national and a unique figure, much loved, pre-war, he was much forgotten by those who had before heard his tales, they who had been the recipient of his child-like sensitivity. But this educator, storyteller, broadcaster, the children in his care in the orphanage he ran, were braver than the heroes of fiction. They did not run, but walked, they walked out of their orphanage, knowing their destination was the camp in which they would perish. That is not fiction, not a scene from a story written by Korczak. It is the truth, a scene from the life story of Korczak.
We need education, stories, broadcasts. We need them to tell us the truth, the truths of those who tell them so much better than the liars, the distorters, the haters.
On this day of Holocaust remembrance, it is how we can learn to never forget. By learning the truth, that we can then always remember.