It has been pointed out that none of the artists who created the Holocaust memorials in Père Lachaise Cemetery were Jewish, that there is no mention of the Jewish victims and any national responsibility, and that they primarily represent and memorialise the Résistance.
Now I must confess to a frisson of excitement as my eyes lap up the plump morsels of betrayal and horror on a webpage titled, ‘Vichy France, the Nazis and the Holocaust: An introduction…’
‘Cos I really enjoyed dishing the dirt on Siemens and AEG, and now I can have a really good go at those fucking French Vichy collaborating Nazi cunts, I’m really looking forward to that, I mean they go on, and on and on about the fucking Résistance, but in actual fact there were only about fifty people in the Résistance in the war, the numbers miraculously got magnified once the Germans fucked off and now everyone seems to believe they were part of it.
Are you aware that on the nights of 16–17 July 1942, Parisian police arrested thirteen thousand, one hundred and fifty two Jewish men, women and children? They were deported to Auschwitz, and only eight hundred and eleven of them survived the war.
Did you know that?
But what I notice is that the excitement, the fervour, the glee with which I report this information to you is similar to how I feel when reading about Nazi war criminals being hunted down like dogs, of the trial and execution of concentration camp guards, of the collapse of the Third Reich and everything it stood for.
I love it.
I love hating Nazis. I love hating French collaborators.
Much as I enjoy the smug satisfaction of disliking the Polish guys sitting in the playground opposite my home drinking beer or Red Bull at seven o’clock in the morning.
Or my disdain at high waisted elasticated trouser wearing obese American tourists with masticating jaws and dull cow eyes clotting the hostile broken arteries of my city…
And the Japanese tourists blindly proffering their thousand dollar smart phones to any passing West End tealeaf at the end of a selfie-stick…
Then there’s the scathing contempt I feel towards the Old Street hipsters with their skinny legs and tiny feet and baggy jumpers and MacBook Pros and soya lattes and coiffured beards and beany hats and floppy hair and generic homogenised tattoos…
And as I explore the righteous anger and hatred that I have for a particular group of people because of how they look or what they represent, I’m reminded of an impossible question that at times I’ve asked of myself over the years – if I’d been born in a different time and a different place in the last century whereby I was called upon to participate in the Holocaust… would I have said no?
Would I have had the integrity and courage and self-awareness not only to refuse to ‘follow orders’, but to speak out against what was happening all around me?
The darkest, scariest aspect of the Holocaust in many ways is that it was not perpetrated by psychopaths or mass murderers – it was carried out by regular, day to day people who went about the task in a practical, enthusiastic and efficient way. Who, as often as not, clocked off and went home after a hard days work to their wives and children. Where they behaved decently and with kindness and humanity.
If you can read a statistic like one hundred thousand dead and not be moved, you’re already on your way to the mind-set that allows us to perpetrate genocide. But if you demonise the Nazis you miss the point and become like them. The Nazis were not demons or monsters.
They were people.
And that is what’s so fucked up about it.
Take Gudrun for example. She was a typical eleven-year-old girl – blue eyed, fresh faced she preferred to wear her long blond hair in plaits and liked pretty dresses and dolls. Aged eleven, she wrote in her diary:
“Today, Mama, Aunt Lydia, Aunt Frieda and I went to the SS concentration camp at Dachau. We saw everything we could. We saw the gardening work. We saw the pear trees. We saw all the pictures painted by the prisoners. Marvellous. And afterwards we had a lot to eat. It was very nice – what a grand project the concentration camps are.”
Her father, Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS and Gestapo, was the chief architect of the Final Solution. He adored his daughter and had her regularly flown to his offices in Berlin from Munich where she lived with her mother. When they were apart he telephoned her most days and wrote to her every week. He continued to call her by her childhood nickname ‘Püppi’ throughout his life.
When he wasn’t being a doting father he was overseeing the extermination of an entire race.