I normally try to avoid writing anything too overtly political on this site, because that’s not really the stance we originally plotted for it; but sometimes, events can almost make it unavoidable.
I’ve just finished reading a book called “The Forgers”, by Roger Moorhouse. Its background is the nazi ‘Final Solution’ to the ‘Jewish Question’, so it’s very clearly not a comfortable read. It’s actually the story of how a group of Polish diplomats in Switzerland worked with a variety of Jewish organisations and individuals to produce passports giving a foreign nationality to several thousand (mostly Polish) Jews trapped by the Nazi/Soviet occupation of Poland during the Second World War. These passports were were issued in false names by the Consuls in Bern and Geneva of a number of South American states (Paraguay, Ecuador, Cuba, Venezuela amongst them) and then smuggled into Poland. They were useful because the Germans had a concept of what they called ‘Exchange Jews’, who were not citizens of countries under German occupation, but of other states; what the Germans intended was to use them as exchange counters for German citizens held in non-combatant countries. It’s not entirely clear how many lives were saved by this scheme, or in how many cases the documents failed to achieve their purpose - indeed, many of the ‘Exchange’ category ended up in Bergen-Belsen - but in the book Moorhouse suggests that it was possibly a similar, or maybe even greater, number than those saved by the better known Schindler or Wallenberg.
As I said above, this is not a comfortable read; there is a lot of the horror of what went on in central Europe during the Second World war. But it’s a piece of history which has relatively recently been uncovered by the research, and the very brave people who made it possible deserve to be known.
So what has this got to do with my opening paragraph? Well, the United Nations was established in 1945, and as more and more ghastly information about what had happened in Central Europe dripped out into the public sphere, the phrase “Never Again” became one of the watchwords of the nascent organisation. Never again would the civilised world tolerate a genocide against a particular race or religion. And yet, and yet….. the chants echoing across western capitals - “From London to Gaza, we’ll have intifada” and “From the river to the sea” - are sickeningly reminiscent of what we know went on in 1930s Germany. We may not particularly like Binyamin Netanyahu’s government, but Israel is in reality a tiny spec in the land mass of the Middle East, a success story not because of natural resource wealth, but because of the sheer bloody-minded effort of its people to make it work. How have we reached a stage where crowds are marching through major cities howling for those people’s deaths? Did the world learn nothing from what happened eighty years ago? And yes, I do understand that there is no easy solution, that it is a problem that has been centuries in the making. But the answer cannot be yet another attempt to exterminate an entire race.
The Forgers, by Roger Moorhouse, is published by The Bodley Head (Penguin Random House).