Friday, 27 January 2017

The Holocaust. . . and Refugees?

Today is Holocaust Memorial  Day.

Here is an extract from Primo Levi's dispassionate description of his time in Auschwitz:

. . . .Schonunglsblock means the rest hut, where there are only the less serious patients or convalescents, or those not requiring attention.  Among them, at least fifty more or less serious  dysentery patients. 

These are checked every third day. They are placed in a line along the corridor.  At the end there are two tin-plate pots, and the nurse with a register, watch and pencil.  Two at a time, the patients present themselves  and have to show, on the spot and at once,  that they still have diarrhoea; to prove it they are given exactly one minute.  After which they show the result  to the nurse who looks  at it and judges.  They wash the pots quickly in a wash-tub near by and the next two take over.

Of those waiting , some are contorted in the pain  of keeping in their precious evidence  another ten , another twenty minutes; others, without resources at the moment, strain veins and muscles  in a contrary effort.  The nurse watches, impassive, chewing his pencil, one eye on the watch, one eye on the specimens gradually present him.  In doubtful cases , he leaves with the pot  to show it to the doctor.

If this is a Man, pp59/60, Abacus edition, 2013

I fear I see a similar  lack of empathy - the failure to see other human beings as people like ourselves, with similar thoughts, feelings, hopes, sense of dignity, as ourselves - in our attitude to refugees; not least  the argument by a British politician that rescuing refugees from drowning in the Mediterranean is a bad  idea, because it might encourage others to attempt the crossing.

Man's inhumanity to man is not, sadly, confined to the 1940s, but lives on.

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