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Tony Conway explains why the Communist Party will hold a series of events to mark ‘One Day’, as part of its campaign to combat antisemitism, Holocaust denial and historical revisionism.
Antisemitism has been around for centuries. The Edict of Expulsion, a royal decree issued by Edward 1 on 18 July 1290 sought the expulsion of all Jews from England, by no later than 1 November of that same year. This edict remained in place throughout the Middle Ages and was a culmination of over 200 years of antisemitism. Medieval England was particularly anti-Jewish with many images and tropes which exist today arising from that period.
It is in this period that tales of the ‘Wandering Jew’ as a diabolic figure and allegations of ritual murder becoming widespread. They were actively promoted by the Church, by the Royals when it suited their purpose. In 1190 over 100 Jews were massacred in York. This year the Church of England has stated it will give a formal apology for this act.
At its Congress in November 2021 the Communist Party decided to press the struggle against antisemitism and take the fight to the antisemites. Its a struggle that takes place in communities, in workplaces and online. Last year the Party issued a statement reraffirming its opposition to antisemitism, recalling the pioneering work of the CP in the fight against antisemitism and fascism in the 30s and 40s and again in the 60s and 70s when it reappeared, despite the War.
In the statement the party warns of a growth in antisemitic attacks in Britain and worldwide.
A new Party education programme is being developed and party members have been put on alert to step-up the struggle against antisemitism and maintain vigilance against antisemitic elements in anti-racist movements. In particular the Party is concerned to take up the struggle with a new generation in danger of influence through internet sites that promote historical revisionism, Holocaust denial and conspiracy theory. A second resolution agreed at Congress on this theme was passed, with resources allocated to establish a place on our website to counter these three challenges. This is in the process of being built as I write.
Communists have observed Holocaust Memorial Day since its inception and this year we will actively show the Holocaust in its historical perspective. The 27 January each year is the day that is commemorated as the day that Soviet troops liberated the death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, which had been established in May 1940.
Across Poland and stretching as far south as Croatia over 40 concentration and extermination camps were built. Those held captive in Auschwitz were mainly Jewish, Poles, Romani and Soviet prisoners of war – 1.3 million were imprisoned and 1.1 million were killed in that terrible place.
Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941. Hitler intended the campaign to be a war of racial and political annihilation. As far back as his biography ‘Mein Kampf’ it was clear that he saw the destruction of what he called, the Judeo-Bolshevik threat as the centrepiece of his nazi ideology. Forced starvation and mass murder were the methods. Civilians were the main target and none more so than Polish and Soviet Jews whose persecution began immediately. Many Jews attempted to flee along with the retreating Soviet Army but not enough succeeded.
With the arrival of the nazi army pogroms against Jewish people were widespread especially in Ukraine, Belarus and the Baltic states. But we now know that the “Holocaust of bullets” started in countries such as Lithuania and Estonia before the arrival of German troops and before the mass gassing in the death camps began. 700,000 died in this way. Despite denial, it is clear that ordinary German soldiers participated in atrocities in considerable number along with locally recruited collaborators. Eyewitness and court testimony confirms both of these, though today, such countries deny involvement. Estonia and Lithuania lost 95% of their pre-war Jewish population in just three years.
Across the East, the nazis concentrated Jews in ghettos ( a practice first found in Venice ) and killed elderly, young, women while using able bodied men initially as slave labour. In the the Baltic states fascist, ultra-nationalist and anti-Soviet elements backed the invaders and joined in the pogroms. In Western Ukraine Polish people were also killed or expelled and Jews murdered. Conventional pogroms were more difficult to organise in Belarus and the Nazis turned to murder by gassing.
These actions resulted in the first use of the word ‘genocide’. The term was coined by Raphael Lemkin, a Pole who fled to the USA in 1941. He lost most of his family in the Holocaust and as a lawyer recognised that the destruction of a nation or an ethnic group, was a crime without a name. ‘Genocide’ was formally adopted by the United Nations in 1948.
In August 1942 the Nazis attacked Stalingrad The battle ended in February 1943. More than two million troops fought. Prior to the attack the German High Command declared when they took the city that bore Stalin’s name all male residents would be killed. It was during this battle that my home City of Coventry – which had experienced saturation bombing by the Lufwaffe – started the international cities movement of twinning something that is commemorated each year in both cities.
The victory of the Soviet Army at Stalingrad was a decisive turn that led directly to 27 January when Auschwitz was liberated. Despite all the destruction witnessed by Soviet troops in their pushback of the Germans to Berlin, no one was prepared for what they witnessed on that day.
Every year at the end of January, the UN pays tribute to the memory of the victims of the Holocaust and reaffirms its commitment to counter antisemitism, racism, and other forms of intolerance that may lead to group-targeted violence. 27 January was officially recognised in November 2005 as the International Day on which we mark the Holocaust.
This year the Communist Party is joining in the commemoration organised by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, Unite Against Fascism, trade unions and many others, under the theme, ‘One Day’.
The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust (HMDT) encourages remembrance in a world scarred by genocide. The HMDT calls for support for the international day to remember the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust, alongside the millions of other people killed under nazi persecution and in genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.
The Holocaust threatened the fabric of civilisation, and genocide must be resisted by action, every day. Our world often feels fragile and vulnerable and we cannot be complacent. Even in Britain, prejudice and the language of hatred must be challenged by us all.
HMD is for everyone. Each year across Britain, people come together , last year in more than a thousand events Britain-wide, to learn more about the past and take action to create a safer future. We know that through these events they learn more, can empathise more and do more.
Together we must bear witness for those who endured genocide, and honour the survivors and all those whose lives were changed beyond recognition. The lessons of antisemitism must be taken into our schools and workplaces. The unions can play an important role in this. We must continue to oppose all racism and fascism and this includes the actions of the British government in its Nationality and Borders Bill which, if carried, will divide working class communities and persecute those fleeing imperialist wars, climate catastrophe and oppression.
We will play an active role alongside those who seek an end to racism, historical revisionism and Holocaust denial. The Communist Party salutes and remembers those brave people who fought and defeated the fascists and antisemites, in generations past and today, amongst whom are found, many of our own members and supporters.
Tony Conway is convenor of the Communist Party’s anti-racist
and anti-fascist commission