Holocaust Memorial Day was established to remember the millions of people who have been murdered or whose lives have been changed beyond recognition during the Holocaust, Nazi Persecution and in subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.
It is easy to think that the genocide that has taken place in other countries could not happen here. Surely we are more civilised, more humane and kinder than the people who actively participated or at the least stood by quietly as “others” were targeted and blamed for social problems. But without the assistance and compliance of lovely, ordinary, law abiding people just like us, these mass murders would not have happened.
We can easily adapt to situations we think we cannot change. So although we might be troubled by an image of a Syrian toddler washed up on a beach, we get used to it and assimilate the knowledge that migrants are drowning regularly as inevitable. The fact that some of them are fleeing from bombs paid for by our taxes feels like it has little to do with us, and the inequality that drives people to leave their own country to come here for a better life is not our problem.
We also have an immense capacity to empathise with other people and understand their difficulties. We get emotional on other peoples behalf and sympathise with their problems. We can even genuinely grieve for people we have never met.
This capacity to feel other peoples pain is easily exploited and manipulated because we are kind and feel bonded to those people around us. So when we hear that our neighbours cannot get access to jobs and houses, it makes us angry. We know it must be the fault of some system because the people who are struggling are decent folks like us just trying to get by.
It is easy for people in power to exploit this anger. Through control of the media. They frame the arguments and choose what to highlight as a problem. We are bombarded with the message that the difficulties finding jobs, lack of housing, and access to health care is the fault of the people who are not like us – as if it would be OK to be poor or homeless or unemployed if the people ‘taking’ the housing, jobs or doctors appointments were from our town or our county or country – would it feel better to know you couldn’t get a job because a person who is just like you took it rather than a person with a different accent or colour or religion?
Lowestoft has a long history of welcoming migrants. The tales of the Scots fishing girls who followed the herring are ingrained in our history. The way they dressed and the language they spoke was as alien to Lowestoft people as the Polish, Portuguese and eastern European languages we hear today. But the story that was told about the Scots fisher girls – that they brought life and colour and industry to the town is very different to the way that the rhetoric about immigrants is framed now.