Seared into our Souls
A powerful exhibition beginning today in the city, aims to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive, so that we can learn lessons from the past and see that the history of horror is never repeated
The horrors of Nazi Germany, the screams of the Jewish victims of the Holocaust and the bloody frenzy of those days will come eerily alive in the impressive corridors of the iconic St Xavier’s College from today, for a week. The Consulate General of Israel is bringing an exhibition called, ‘The Courage to Remember’ to Mumbai. This is an exhibition of 200 original photographs of Holocaust history (1933-1945).
It is a first for Mumbai, a city which saw Israel’s Chabad House in South Mumbai targetted during the 26/11 terror attacks, the strongest indicator that in a global world, Mumbai had imported global terror to its shores.
Today, no country can afford to be ignorant of the world’s worst and biggest genocide the Nazi Holocaust which was state sponsored murder to exterminate Jews. By the end of the Holocaust, six million Jews had died, besides ‘other’ people who did not fit Adolf Hitler’s warped vision of a “superior Aryan race.”
Orna Sagiv, Consul General of Israel said in an interview in her office at Nariman Point, yesterday, prior to the opening this exhibition, “Even though the Holocaust was a tragedy of such a huge magnitude, six million Jews losing their lives with one million of them, children, we think there has not been enough stress on the Holocaust in India. This is one of the reasons for bringing the exhibition to Mumbai. I have noticed that in schools too, the Holocaust is not covered in detail as a subject, in colleges it is often dismissed in a paragraph. This has resulted in a lot of ignorance which, incidentally, is nobody’s fault in particular. With this event, we hope to clear some doubts and create awareness.”
Sagiv added that this ignorance has a direct and disturbing offshoot, the high visibility and sales of Adolf Hitler’s book ‘Mein Kampf’ in India and particularly in Mumbai. “Everywhere at the traffic signals, I see this book being sold. Leading bookstores sell it, publishers have also not shied away from publishing this hateful book. When I talk about this to people, they tell me that India is a democracy and one is free to read what one wishes to. Yet, they do not know the context in which this book full of rubbish was written, they do not have the background.”
Sagiv also added in recent years, “We have seen some stores, restaurants and billiards clubs in the State named after Hitler. I do not put this down to anti-Semitism, but deep insensitivity and a profound ignorance about the hate on which the Holocaust was based. These people do not know the venom, the damage and the xenophobia that the Holocaust was centred around. This exhibition is the courage to remember the Holocaust. This thing was real, it is true and it happened. My mother was born during the Holocaust. People must remember that if it happened to the Jews, it can happen anywhere.”
Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, who is in Mumbai for this exhibition added, “This is my second visit to Mumbai. The first was on the first anniversary of the 26/11 attacks. At that time, I had a multi-faith event, bringing together nine religions for a candlelight ceremony at the Chabad House. Though that was a tragic time, that should not be our only interaction with the people of Mumbai. ‘The Courage to Remember’ aims to put a human face to this tragedy. While terrorists concentrate on statistics (how many dead?) and figures (how was business affected post the terror attacks), exhibitions like these keep the human in focus. They aim to show how terror wants to destroy our common humanity.”
The Rabbi then gave an insight into who was Simon Weisenthal. He said he was a European Jew who lost 19 of his family members in the Holocaust, “and worked towards bringing murderers to justice. In all, he succeeded in bringing 1,100 of them to the bar of justice. He used to say some famous words: ‘that the Jews were the first victims of genocide but not the last’, which simply means it could happen again.” The Rabbi, Sagiv and Dr (PhD) Alfred Balitzer, also part of this effort, exhorted the press to stay on today for a film called, ‘Genocide’, which is as powerful as it is disturbing, which would be shown after the exhibition’s opening.
Professor Balitzer said, “When Americans read about shops here called Hitler Fashions and Hitler Memorabilia, they are shocked and dismayed. You (India) have done wonderful things to enrich the United States. You are the new Jews of America, because of the socio-economic development. But, things like this show that the West does not understand the East and sometimes the East does not understand the essentials of the West. India excels in diversity and plays a leadership role in education. It must now play a role in countering vicious ideas which aim to eradicate an entire people from the face of the earth.”
The organisers added that the aim was to create awareness amongst the younger generation and that is why there is an emphasis on colleges and schools. There are also plans to take at least 20 college principals or heads of history departments to Israel this year, to the Holocaust museum there, so that they could come back to India and start a program here.
All through, the trio emphasised that it was important to look at the past in the eye, and not deny the Holocaust. Iran came in for some special treatment with Sagiv saying, “This is one country that does not accept the existence of Israel and denies the Holocaust, it says that Israel should be wiped off the map. The world needs to stand up to such statements and respond to them.”
Professor Balitzer added, “To deny the Holocaust is the mother’s milk of terrorism.” They also spoke about how, after these atrocities, “Germany is now one of Israel’s closest allies. One has to give credit to Germany it has earned the trust of the world by confronting history and not sweeping it under the carpet.” The Israel Consulate along with the German Consulate is actually planning a special event on January 27, which is U N Holocaust Day, they explained.
Citing different ways in which Israel is making efforts to keep the Holocaust alive, “recordings of the few survivors of the Holocaust is one of them,” the three said that these were “small but important” steps to throw light on the tragedy for India. “This year, we mark 20 years of diplomatic relations with India and we think it is apt to hold a series of programs that can get young Indians thinking about the Holocaust,” they said.
There were several other aspects they touched upon like, ‘collective punishment,’ and ‘state sponsored terrorism’, the double edged sword that is the Internet (can be used for good purposes or evil ones) and how every Govt. today is challenged by terrorism. In the end though, Israel hopes that, ‘The Courage to Remember’ makes young Indians brave enough to walk through the Gothic precincts of the St Xavier’s College, look at the visuals showing Jews lining up to be gassed in gas chambers, emaciated children huddled together like cattle, and learn that these darkest days in history must never be repeated.
The Courage to Remember will formally open at 6 pm today, November 6 and go on till November 10. Venue: St Xavier’s College Hall. Timings: 10 am to 8 pm. The exhibition is open to the public and entrance is free.
The Current in Crisis
About the Holocaust
The Holocaust was the systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of approximately six million Jews by the Nazi regime and its collaborators. Holocaust is a word of Greek origin which actually means ‘sacrifice by fire’. The Nazis, who came to power in Germany in January 1933, believed that Germans were “racially superior” and that the Jews, deemed “inferior,” were an alien threat to the so-called German racial community.
During the era of the Holocaust, German authorities also targeted other groups because of their perceived “racial inferiority”: Roma (Gypsies), the disabled, and some of the Slavic peoples (Poles, Russians, and others). Other groups were persecuted on political, ideological, and behavioural grounds, among them Communists, Socialists, Jehovah’s Witnesses and homosexuals.
Numbers and the Holocaust
In 1933, the Jewish population of Europe stood at over nine million. By 1945, the Germans and their collaborators killed nearly two out of every three European Jews as part of the ‘Final Solution,’ the Nazi policy to murder the Jews of Europe.
Then, allied forces finally moved to defeat Germany and liberate concentration camp prisoners. On May 7, 1945, the German armed forces surrendered unconditionally to the Allies. For the western Allies, World War II officially ended in Europe on the next day, May 8.
Soviet forces announced their ‘Victory Day’ on May 9, 1945.