Remembering the Holocaust: Cameron Hodgkinson
At first, I didn’t get it. It wasn’t horrific or even interesting. I was 8 at the time. It was Mrs O’Hern’s class, and a topic on the Second World War. To me, it didn’t seem at all remarkable. Just one of the various vagaries that appeared in history, like Bloody Mary or the Crusades. In short: something that happened a long time ago, in a country far away from this warm and dry classroom.
Mrs O’Hern put on a clip from a kid’s show with images of what I later learned were Dachau and Auschwitz. Corpses, which flittered briefly across the screen, never could have struck my infantile brain as people. So far gone, so lifeless, so rotten. It is horrible to think it, but the only emotion I felt was one of mild disgust, probably just how they wanted you to feel.
I’m 12. I’m sitting at the back of a Religious Studies Class, it’s almost the end of the day. And this is when I realise: people, just like you and me, were killed.
A few months earlier, unbeknown to my parents I watched Schindler's List. There’s one particular scene in the film that stands out. An architect is arguing with an officer over the buildings, he doesn’t like this snub, so he orders her shot. You can see the panic and the hope drain from her, then you sit there paralysed as you see the bullet run through her body, finishing her off.
The killing itself wasn’t what I found so diabolical. I had seen stuff like that on the News before and in video games plenty of times. Or the sense of anxiety at being completely unable to stop it. It was what it represented. It was the hate that I found so unsettling. One so vitriolic, ignorant and powerful that it did not care for suffering, pain or even self-interest.
Seeing the same images again of the camps, that’s when you realise its scale. They didn’t kill just one like this, they killed over a thousands of thousand like this.
Two years have passed since then. I am sitting in the back of the school auditorium while a holocaust survivor speaks. Through the brief pauses, the moments when he stares at photos of loved ones and while his eyes linger on the ground, you can see the still present memories. He can never heal. What happened, did not just happen long ago, it occurred in living memory, to people who lived not too different lives to us and whose presence is still missed. One question fluttered through my mind, how would I feel if I had lost what he has? A brother, a Mum and a Dad.
Now it is 2020. People still like to talk about the Holocaust as an aberration in human behaviour. That it can’t happen again or it started almost overnight. This is all while people ignore what’s happening to Rohingya or the return in White Supremacy, once thought abolished in Western world. This is what I have taken away from the holocaust: it wasn’t just an event where millions of lives were tragically cut short, it was a process. How when we start drawing lines around outsiders, become indifferent to other’s suffering or think it is not our responsibility – it can happen again.