There is only one historical event the study of which is compulsory under the National Curriculum – the Holocaust.
Not the Norman Conquest, not the Civil War, not the Industrial Revolution, but the Holocaust – which is part of European, not of British history.
If it is considered essential that all children study this episode of European history, then clearly the Holocaust must have very important lessons to teach us.
What lessons are these? The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust explains on its website that the Holocaust teaches us that “Genocide does not just take place on its own – it’s a steady process which can begin if discrimination, racism and hatred are not checked and prevented”.
Surely, we are being told here that we should learn from the Holocaust to call out cases of discrimination, racism and hatred to ensure that they do not lead to anything worse, as they did in Nazi Germany?
Which is exactly what Gary Lineker thought he was doing when he tweeted that the Government’s Illegal Migration Bill was “an immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 1930s”. One does not have to agree with Lineker’s assessment of Government policy to accept that he had the right to criticise it in the terms he did. (Whether the terms of Lineker’s relationship with the BBC permitted him to speak out on a controversial political issue, is another question altogether.)
One fundamental of Nazi policy was the scapegoating of marginalised groups, not only Jews but also gypsies, Slavs, homosexuals, Communists, even the disabled. It is perfectly reasonable to make a comparison here with the scapegoating of illegal migrants for some of the problems that beset Britain today. The analogy is far from perfect – the Jews being scapegoated by the Nazis were German nationals, not migrants – but the comparison is legitimate.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman responded to Lineker’s comments by saying that she found them offensive because her husband is Jewish and her children are directly descended from people who were murdered in gas chambers during the Holocaust. But Lineker did not compare the Government’s attitude to illegal immigration with the Holocaust. He compared the language of the Illegal Migrant Bill with the language used by the Nazis in 1930s Germany.
It is a common error to use the terms ‘Nazi Germany’ and ‘the Holocaust’ interchangeably. The discrimination and propaganda characteristic of Germany in the 1930s led to the Holocaust in the 1940s because they were not checked: this is what the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust has told us. If people make comparisons with Nazi Germany, it is because they want to prevent a recurrence of anything comparable to the Holocaust.
Karen Pollock, the chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, wrote an article in the Times about Lineker’s comments in which she argued that it was wrong to compare any current concerns to what happened in Nazi Germany.
So what, then, is the purpose of the Holocaust Educational Trust? Its avowed aim is to educate people about the Holocaust. If we’re not permitted to identify the recurrence of attitudes characteristic of Nazi Germany to ensure the terrible crimes to which they led are not repeated, then what is the point of learning about the Holocaust?
Holocaust survivor and Polish historian Marian Turski, speaking at the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz in January 2020, declared that “Auschwitz did not fall from the sky [but] crept up, with small steps”. It started, he said, with the banning of Jews from park benches and choirs and swimming pools. Those who witnessed the segregation of Jews in Germany in the 1930s did not know this would lead eventually to their extermination, he said.
I never imagined that I would in my life be defending Lineker. But play the ball, not the man.
Some of Lineker’s supporters, on the other hand, have made unjustified comparisons with Nazi Germany. For example, Alastair Campbell claimed on Twitter that the abolition of BBC Singers and cuts to BBC orchestras were “another resonance with 30s Germany – the assault on culture and the arts”. As if these cuts are comparable to the burning of books and the banning of Jewish composers and the suppression of ‘degenerate’ art.
Campbell also stated in an interview on LBC that he has a book coming out in a few months which will be looking specifically at the use of neo-Fascist and neo-Nazi language by right-wing politicians and newspapers. The examples he gave were “Drain the Swamp” (popularised by Donald Trump), which he says originated with Mussolini, and “Enemies of the People” (used by the Daily Mail to refer to judges obstructing Brexit) which he says comes from the notorious Nazi propaganda outlet Der Stürmer.
Let’s hope Campbell has better examples in his book. Mussolini and Der Stürmer did use the phrases in question, but they did not invent them. “Drain the Swamp” is a phrase specific to American politics that goes back well over a century, originating in the widespread belief that Washington DC was built on a swamp that had to be drained. The phrase has been used by Nancy Pelosi as well as by Trump. “Enemies of the People” dates from Ancient Rome, and most historians would associate it with the propaganda of the Soviet Union rather than Nazi Germany.
Commentators who’ve spoken out in support of Lineker have argued for his right to free speech. As has already been pointed out in the Daily Sceptic and elsewhere, it doesn’t constitute a defence of a person’s right to free speech to insist that he should be allowed to say something that you agree with. It is only a defence of free speech if you insist on someone being allowed to say something with which you disagree. Where were all these supposed free-speech advocates when J.K. Rowling was attacked? Or Maya Forstater? Or Salman Rushdie?
What has not yet been identified is the hypocrisy of the concern that self-styled ‘liberal’ commentators – including Lineker – appear to have developed for the issue of human rights, specifically the human rights of illegal migrants. For the past three years, they have shown no interest in the human rights of British citizens who were imprisoned in their homes, compelled to cover their faces with masks that impeded their breathing, required to submit themselves to invasive tests that constituted a bodily assault, and coerced into accepting an experimental medical intervention to keep their jobs or travel abroad or attend public events. The liberal Left was conspicuous in its absence from resistance to the human-rights abuses that occurred as a result of the Government’s response to the Covid pandemic.
Supposedly, in 2020-22 human rights were overridden because of a ‘public-health emergency’. Funny thing is, this was exactly the phrase the Nazis used to justify their discrimination against Jews. They said first that Jews had to be excluded from German society because they were carriers of disease, and later that they had to be confined in ghettos to prevent them from spreading typhus to the rest of the population.
It was specifically to publicise the comparison between the human-rights abuses of the British Government during the pandemic and the tyranny of Nazi Germany that I set up the campaign group Jews for Justice in the autumn of 2021, at a time when unvaccinated people in Britain were being stigmatised in a manner reminiscent of the ‘othering’ of Jews in Germany in the 1930s. I felt that as a group of Jews we were less likely than others to be shouted down for making this comparison.
It is contemptible that in 2023 ‘liberal’ commentators have suddenly rediscovered a concern for human rights yet appear to remain blithely ignorant of the repeated ethical, moral and legal violations of our Government during the period March 2020 to July 2021.
Andrew Barr has written books on wine and the history of drink, and is working on a history of scapegoating, provisionally entitled The Enemy Within. Jews for Justice does not yet have a website, but can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.