The Holocaust – what’s in a word?

As we mark Holocaust Memorial Day it is worth noting that the term “Holocaust” was not widely used by writers and scholars until the 1960s and was only one of several words that have described the extermination of an estimated 6 million Jews, including 1.5 million children, and around 1 million Roma and Sinti (Gypsies) by Nazi fascists between 1941-45.

egpit01sOne million of those Jews were slaughtered in mass shootings by Einsatzgruppen (SS and police units aided by local collaborators) who swept through areas of the USSR that the Nazis invaded from June 1941. Many others died from starvation and disease in walled ghettoes in which the Nazis incarcerated them. The majority, however, were industrially murdered in a network of specially constructed death camps. The Nazis harnessed the skills of architects, scientists, engineers and administrators to carry out this horrendous crime, while businesses profited from supplying poison gas.

The thoroughly evidenced facts of the Holocaust are uncontroversial for most, though the ranks of Holocaust sceptics and deniers are growing. But the naming of what happened is controversial.

The Nazis themselves chillingly described their actions as the “Final Solution”


Survivors of the T4 programme

(Endlosung) to the “Jewish question”. Early Nazi rallies featured a slogan: “The Jews are our misfortune”, but their project of mass murder began, on a smaller scale, with a different group. Around 275,000 disabled people in Germany and Austria were murdered by lethal injections or poison gas at “euthanasia centres” under the secret T4 programme initiated in 1939.

Trade unionists, political opponents, gays, and others deemed “asocial” or “inferior”, perished in large numbers too, through starvation and mistreatment in concentration camps. Every victim must be mourned equally, but to understand the process we must recognise that the specific intention of wiping out whole peoples applied only to Jews and Roma/Sinti, and, within Germany and Austria, to disabled people too.

The term Holocaust, from French via ancient Greek, means “wholly burnt”, but it carries connotations of “sacrifice”. Some fringe religious-Zionists believe that the “miraculous” creation of Israel compensated for the “sacrifice” of Diaspora Jewry. For others, “Holocaust” is an iconic, mystical term indicating an event outside of history, beyond previous scale or comprehension. The survivor Elie Wiesel, who died in 2016, described what occurred as a “madness” for which the only appropriate response was “silence”.

The combined Jewish and Roma/Sinti victimhood at the hands of the Nazis was actually exceeded by two other major historical events. One was the destruction of native South American peoples, principally by the Spanish. A 70-million-strong population before Columbus, was reduced by disease, enslavement and murder over the next 150 years to 3 million. Many died young, mining the gold and silver that adorns Latin American churches and underpinned Spain’s economic development.

Several African historians use a Kiswahili word, Maafa (disaster) to describe the second, also termed the “Black Holocaust”. From the 15th century onwards, many millions of African slaves died in captivity, en route to the Americas, or through mistreatment there by Europeans. Genocide, the term academic historians prefer, coined by a lawyer Rafael Lemkin during World War 2, had certainly occurred before the 1940s, and continued afterwards.

The Nazis’ killing programme against the Jews began in 1941 in the context of a war of expansion. It was marked out from other mass killings not only by the systematic industrial methods of slaughter designed by highly qualified people, and gruesome medical experiments, but also by the maintenance of detailed records of present and planned future victims.

None of the words chosen to describe the Nazis’ programme are free of ideology. The promotion or discouragement of certain terms reflects competing claims for ownership of the memory associated with this history.

shoahBy the mid-1970s, a Hebrew word, Shoah, was widely used, popularised further through Claude Lansmann’s eponymous 1985 documentary. Its literal meaning – catastrophe/calamity – lacks the sacrificial connotations of Holocaust, but stll carries considerable ideological baggage. Its elevation represents the Israeli state claiming ownership of Jewish history. Ironic given the Zionists’ extremely patchy record of opposing antisemitism and Nazism in the 1930s, and given the present day embrace by arch–Zionist Netanyahu, of European leaders who promote far-right ideologies and hatred of minorities today, while restoring the image of home-grown antisemitic movements of the late 1930s and early ‘40s.

Israeli spokespersons using the term Shoah are not looking towards the Jewish community alone. They would prefer non-Jews to see the destruction of Europe’s Jews through Israeli eyes. This reflects the historiography that Israeli schools promoted in the 1960s, that disparaged Diaspora Jews for going “like lambs to the slaughter”. It ignores the powerful resistance to antisemitism in Poland before the war led by anti-Zionist Jewish socialists (Bundists) supported by non-Jewish Polish socialists. It downplays the resistance of many Jews in ghettoes and even in the concentration and death camps, or falsely claims that such resistance was led by Zionists alone.

Zionist ideologues regard the fate of the Jews under Nazism as proof of the failure of Diaspora. If a Jewish state had existed in the 1930s, they say, more Jews would have been saved. The fate of Palestine’s Jews during the war, however, hinged on the Battle of El Alamein. If the Nazis had reached Palestine, Jews there would have shared the same fate as their relatives in Europe. And besides, however many Jews would have found sanctuary in Palestine, that would not have changed the fate of a million Roma/Sinti being targeted for slaughter alongside Jews for exactly the same reason.

So what terms have the victims themselves chosen? Until quite recently Roma and Sinti have favoured the term Porajmos, of Romani origin, which means “devouring”. But there has been a backlash among Romani-speaking activists, especially women, because this term also has connotations of rape, so some prefer the term samudaripen (mass murder).

Among Jews, both Holocaust and Shoah have marginalised the Yiddish word khurbn,


Fun letstn khurban – a collection of survivor memories published in 1946

used in Yiddish memoirs by survivors. Some 15% of Yiddish words derive from ancient Hebrew – khurbn (destruction) is one of them. Its earlier use referred particularly to the destruction of the First and Second Temples.

Most of Hitler’s Jewish victims were Yiddish-speakers. The Nazis were determined to destroy Yiddish culture as well as Jewish people. It is surely more appropriate to use a term derived from the victims’ principal language rather than the Hebrew term Shoah which now dominates the discourse. In contrast with calamity or disaster, destruction implies agency.

As does genocide – my preferred term alongside khurbn. Genocide assumes perpetrators and victims. The genocidal intent to destroy entire peoples indicates a spectrum that includes ethnic cleansing, while distinguishing itself from random attacks and massacres.

Survivors and their families insist that the full truth of what happened to them and their communities at the hands of the Nazis should be known and attempts to distort, trivialise, marginalise or deny that history should be resisted.

For some Jews, the term “genocide” detracts from the uniqueness of what occurred under Nazism, though the further we move through the 21st century, the more I fear that its methods and processes will prove far from unique. Better, then, that we locate its memory within history, within the reality of what rational human beings have done and are capable of doing in pursuit of ideologies of extreme nationalism and notions of superiority and inferiority.

The Nazis were fascists, helped into power in 1933 by capitalists in crisis. But the seeds were sown long before, and not just in Germany. The urge to conquer, to suppress, to exalt the nation, to dehumanise others, had long been powerful ideas in European cultures and will surely reappear in new contexts for a long time to come. Our task today is to recognise danger signs at an early stage and find strategies to confront them, in whichever continent they emerge, and whichever nation or culture is exalted or detested.

This article was first published in slightly abridged form in the Morning Star on Saturday 26th January.



Who will challenge the Tories’ links with antisemites?

Last February the Polish ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) passed a law outlawing accusations of complicity by Poles in the Holocaust. A month later the Polish Prime Minister laid a wreath at the Munich grave site of the Holy Cross Mountains Brigade, a Polish underground military unit who collaborated with Nazi Germany against communists during the Second World War.
That same month the Latvian National Alliance party took part in an annual event commemorating the Latvian Waffen-SS.
In Bulgaria, every February, the Bulgarian National Movement holds a march through the centre of Sofia to honour Hristo Lukov, an army general who led the pro-Nazi Union of National Legions during the war. The march ends next to the house where Lukov was assassinated by anti-fascist partisans.

What connects these three parties?

Apart from the fact that they also indulge in ultra-nationalism and xenophobia (including Islamophobic, anti-Roma and anti-refugee propaganda), they are part of the Conservatives and Reformists bloc in the European Parliament, formed in 2009 by David Cameron and Polish right wingers, who took the Tories out of a more “moderate” Conservative bloc. The UK Conservative Party and Polish PiS remain, by far, the largest members of that coalition. Theresa May has chosen to keep the Conservatives in that bloc despite (or is it because of?) the reactionary politics of their close allies.

Last summer the Tories and PIS welcomed another controversial party into that bloc – the Sweden Democrats, whose roots were in the neo-Nazi movements of the 1980s and ’90s. They claim to have cleaned up their image but last year social media posts by some of the Sweden Democrats’ local/regional councillors were exposed. One mocked the Holocaust victim Anne Frank as “the coolest Jew in the shower room”. One more alleged that “Rothschild controls the economy”, and in a separate post asked: “What is the difference between a cow and the Holocaust ? You can’t milk a cow for 70 years.”
Hungary’s Fidesz party is outside of that bloc. Its Prime Minister, Victor Orban, was re-elected last march after a campaign in which he indulged his open antisemitism against George Soros. Yet when Orban was being censured by the Euro Parliament last September, the Conservatives and Reformists group – including the UK Conservatives – went through the lobbies with the furthest right-wing racist and fascist groups to defend Orban.

Memorial stones at Auschwitz/Birkenau

These are the current, real and verifiable links between the Conservative Party, antisemitism and Holocaust revisionism. Yet in the media coverage around Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD), which will be commemorated this Sunday, I have not heard a single mainstream media representative challenge the Conservative Party over these direct links, or their complicity in working with and defending antisemites.

Between now and Sunday, will even one mainstream media outlet have the guts to call out the Tories’ links?
Instead what we hear repeatedly, with reference to HMD are specious and unsubstantiated reference to Labour’s alleged “problem” with antisemitism, and gratuitous attacks on Jeremy Corbyn.

It is sickening to see the history of the Holocaust used so cynically as a political football to obscure the Tories’ shameful alliances, and instead condemn the party of racial equality, and attack its leader who has always been prominent in the anti-racist, anti-fascist movement.



Time to hold our nerve

Luciana Berger, Ben Bradshaw, Louise Ellman, Mike Gapes, Margaret Hodge, Liz Kendall, Chris Leslie, Jess Phillips, Joan Ryan, Angela Smith, Owen Smith, Wes Streeting, Chuka Umunna…
Do these names look at all familiar? They have been at the heart of campaigns against

jess-wadsworth-640x400 (1)

Hodge, Phillips and Berger

Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour Party, not least on the very largely concocted allegations of antisemitism in the Party, and they have sought to undermine the leadership on several other issues too.

Why is it no surprise to find them among the 71 signatories yesterday to a letter seeking to undermine the Labour leadership’s strategy on the day Jeremy Corbyn was proposing his no confidence vote, by seeking to commit the party to a Second Referendum/People’s Vote? Their letter was published, followed by photocalls and media interviews while parliament was debating the No Confidence motion, and at the very moment when the Tories are on the ropes. Their intervention came less than 24 hours after the Tories suffered the largest government defeat in British parliamentary history.

The chess moves by the Labour leadership towards a General Election are trapping the Tories. Within days of 117 Tories voting no confidence in May as leader of their party, they have shown their complete cynicism by voting confidence in her to lead the country. May was considered not good enough for her Party but good enough to keep inflicting her destructive policies on the country.


Even then May only survived the “vote of confidence” with the bought votes of the mk6nunyreactionary bigots of the DUP, plus one renegade ex-Labour member John Woodcock.

May has until Monday to come up with Plan B. At the last minute, in utter desperation, she has reached out to other parties but Corbyn rightly won’t join the talks unless she rules out “no deal”. A further entrapment.

If she does so, she will alienate the hard Brexiteers. If she doesn’t she will alienate a significant segment of Tory Remainers. Some Tory MPs are openly expressing fears of a formal split in their party.

Now is the time for all Labour members and supporters to hold their nerve and give full support for the Labour leadership, which is following to the letter the policy agreed almost unanimously at Conference across the party.


A General Election – that Referendum, that People’s Vote – on every single government policy, every single Tory failure, is tantalisingly within reach. This is not the time for sectarian games.

Desperate Days for May

Nearly 600 homeless human beings died on Britain’s streets in last year. In April last year, a struggling young mother in Preston took her own life fearing the hardship of being moved on to Universal Credit. Study after study predicts that the suicide rate will rise as this system is rolled out.  The precariousness and stress of Zero-Hours jobs continues to take its toll and permit super-exploitation. More than 1.3 million people used foodbanks in Britain last year, many of them with regular work but on starvation wages. The callous and heartless treatment of the Windrush generation has been screen shot 2019-01-14 at 11.16.29revealed but their struggle for their rights and for redress continues. More stories emerge of individuals who worked and paid their taxes and national insurance in Britain for decades before being wrongly deported to destitution and some to early death in the Caribbean. Nineteen months ago, the  neglect of the poor and the marginalised in London’s richest borough resulted in the disaster at Grenfell Tower. At several of the monthly silent marches since the disaster the names of the victims are read out – the vast majority of them, impoverished migrants. Dozens of families who survived have still not been adequately re-housed.

But if there is one shameful and particularly distressing image to conjure up, beyond this catalogue of misery, as we enter 2019, it is surely reports of desperate schoolchildren rummaging through bins for food.

Yet, all of these  stark realities of Tory Britain have been consistently relegated and obscured on practically every news programme by the endless discussion and speculation of what might happen around Brexit. Every time I’ve watched BBC Question Time in this last six months I have found it intensely irritating as three-quarters of the show is taken up with Brexit, and other issues which predated the Referendum and continue to worsen, barely get a look-in.

What drove 17 million+ people to deliver an unexpected Referendum result that shook  the complacent elite, was, above all, a desire for change. But with a mass media constantly demonising the left, and especially the Labour leadership, right wing populists gained a hearing to give coherence to at least a significant segment of that anti-establishment vote.

Hard-core racists and nationalists fantasised that they could stop immigration, and this would somehow make their lives better. Farage and Johnson fanned their fears, feeding the lie that people would somehow”take back control”.

But the vote was much more than a narrow nationalist outburst. it was a cry from communities left behind in a society where from the 1980s onwards, their industries have been destroyed and the gap between rich and poor has widened and widened.

The referendum that caused so much havoc was dreamed up by UKIP, and implemented by a Tory Party happy to use it solve its internal political disputes. The Labour Party, with its much expanded base since 2015, but a leadership forced by the defeated right wing to spend so much energy on internal battles, were merely collateral damage to those pushing the right wing Hard-Brexit agenda.

Labour began to undo the damage and division within all classes with a radical screen shot 2019-01-14 at 11.19.41manifesto that could appeal to people on both sides of the Brexit divide. That desire for change throughout the nation denied the Tories a majority in an election which they thought they had in the bag. The relentless war by the media to destroy Jeremy Corbyn, including a manufactured and exploitative “crisis” around antisemitism, had them believing their own hype. They predicted a landslide Tory victory in 2017. But similar impulses to strike a blow against the establishment, as were displayed in the Referendum, aided Labour’s powerful challenge just when people were writing them off.

Undeterred, and  aided and abetted by the Labour right wing, the media have repeatedly tried to turn the Conservative’s crisis into Labour’s crisis.  The Labour leadership has had to do the most careful balancing act not to fall victim, so soon after it had achieved its remarkable feat in the 2017 General Election of denying the Tories a majority.  Labour stepped up its campaigning on many fronts against austerity and foodbank Britain. But the momentum from the Referendum hurtled on through 2018 towards the March 2019 deadline.

Minor opposition parties, such as the Lib Dems and the Greens, still polling very low, called on Labour to be a “real” opposition. Yes, that was the Lib-Dems who for five years worked hand in hand with the Tories imposing austerity.  They urged Labour to adopt a strong Remain position (even if that meant ignoring the way that millions of working class people had voted), and campaign for a “People’s Vote” – one that sounds very nice but is actually likely to produce another close result and merely entrench divisions among the bulk of society suffering under the Tories.

Despite the commentariat deriding Labour for not making Brexit its key focus, and claiming that the Labour Party was avoiding the issue, Labour Conference in 2018 (the biggest in the party’s history) won almost unanimous support for a position after a long compositing session in which hundreds of members from all strands of the party were involved. It reaffirmed the six tests against which any Tory proposed deal would be judged, and set out the basis for the kind of deal Labour would seek to negotiate, (with a Customs Union and a close arrangement with the Single Market). It resolved to try to force a General Election as the divisions within the Tories widened, and, if that failed, promised to keep all options on the table – including seeking a “People’s Vote”.

The pressure that Labour was able to mount looked like it might force the Tories to crack in December. May was heading for a catastrophic defeat on her deal. But at the time of most division, the Greens, Lib Dems and Labour Right tried to push Corbyn to table a No-Confidence vote in the government, an absolutely futile gesture which would have suddenly united the Tories. But May temporarily out-maneuvered her opponents by pulling the vote on the deal for a month. She hoped she could scare many of her internal opponents, worried about simply crashing out, into backing her deal. Corbyn wisely kept the No-Confidence option in reserve.

479Corbyn refuses to swap his glasses for rose-tinted spectacles when he looks at the EU. He knows how abysmally it has treated Greece and Italy, and how Fortress Europe treats migrants and refugees seeking sanctuary. As a longstanding anti-fascist and internationalist, he has witnessed and warned against the menacing growth of the Far Right in several EU countries that will manifest itself even more significantly and influentially after the next EU elections. And, he and other members of Labour’s leadership team, actually understand the arithmetic of Britain’s political landscape. The  majority of Labour’s members voted Remain, though the Remain votes stack up most heavily in more economically comfortable but safe Labour seats. Four-fifths of the key Tory/Labour marginals that Labour needs to win to have a hope of forming a government, are in relatively more distressed areas where people voted heavily for Leave.

This week May will not be able to avoid the vote on her deal, and in advance of that Corbyn gave an important speech last Thursday in Wakefield, at the heart of a region where many communities voted overwhelmingly to leave. Despite an almost total media blackout on the detail of his speech, its themes are gradually emerging. He sought to change the conversation back to the stark realities of Tory Britain, after years of austerity. He emphasised the class divide, stating that whether you lived in Mansfield, a Leave area, or Tottenham, a Remain area, working class people were struggling, were up against it, but were not and should not be against each other.

After the Wakefield speech Corbyn did two other meetings that day. One, recorded live, in Pudsey, was to a large and enthusiastic hall of working class Labour members and supporters who gave rapturous applause to his key policies for transforming Britain. It has been making its way across social media in the absence of any mainstream media reporting it.

Channel 4, which until roughly a year ago had been the least hostile of the mainstream media, has since joined the anti-Corbyn bandwagon. Their attempted spoiler that day was a live discussion, also in Yorkshire, with 18-20 year olds at Leeds University, to show what they thought on the Brexit issue. With the media again believing its own hype, John Snow anticipated being able to demonstrate that the vast majority of young people were fervently pro-Remain and totally disillusioned with Corbyn. He got a lot more than he bargained for as young people there showed a very nuanced set of approaches much more diverse than Snow anticipated, and with very few keen to dismiss Corbyn’s strategy.

On the Marr Show yesterday, Corbyn would not let his bullying host restrict him to talking only of deals with Europe. He insisted on talking about Labour’s socialist, anti-austerity programme that it would seek to implement from Day One, in housing, investment, social security, and education, alongside its adjustment to the new situation vis a vis Europe.

Tomorrow, May’s deal will be voted down. If it had been held in December, it was 2000predicted that May would have lost catastrophically, by more than 200 votes. Bribery and project fear will have reduced that considerably, but I am hoping it gets to three figures. Corbyn will push his attempt at a No-Confidence vote, to try to force an election. That will be close. I hope it succeeds. Many groups in Parliament are working to ensure that crashing with No-Deal is impossible. A small but spirited march and rally two days ago, by the People’s Assembly, amplified the themes that Corbyn has been pushing, and John McDonnell emphasised from the platform at Trafalgar Square, the importance of extra-parliamentary pressure. The genuinely anti-Tory forces need to be ready for whatever the next days and weeks brings. Hold on tight.


Far right footprints?

IMG_8048My anti-fascist antennae were twitching today. Before heading back to London from a few days break in Stow in the Wold, we took a short diversion to visit to Moreton in Marsh, a small market town at the head of the Evenlode valley, just a few miles a way.  We found a good parking spot on the High Street, opposite a pub – a 17th century coaching inn –  with a George cross flag: the Redesdale Arms.

Now that was a familiar name. “Family connection with Oswald Mosley. Lord Redesdale. Big-time antisemite!” I muttered to my partner.

034769_0b84a3dbWe didn’t go in there but took a little walk round the town. Many of the buildings on the High Street, were of similar age to the inn. As we returned to the car we stopped by a plaque on the side of a large impressive building that stood a paved area in the middle of the High Street. It was Redesdale Hall. The plaque helped me to piece together the connection. The building was put up by the 1st Baron Redesdale the Lord of the Manor in Moreton in Marsh, whose name was Algernon Bertram Freeman-Mitford.

In 1936, two days after the Battle of Cable Street, Sir Oswald Mosley, leader of the British220px-Diana_Mitford_Photo Union of Fascists, was in Berlin to get married for the second time. It was a small ceremony away from the attention of the press, in the House of the Goebbels family. Goebbels was chief Propaganda Officer for the Nazis at the time. Hitler was there as Guest of Honour. Mosley’s wife to be was Diana Guinness, who had previously been married to the aristocrat and brewing heir, Bryan Guinness. They divorced when after she started an affair with Oswald Mosley. Her maiden name though was Diana Mitford. she was one of the four Mitford sisters (Diana, Jessica, Unity, Nancy), and a first cousin, incidentally, of Clementine Churchill, Winston Churchill’s wife. Winston Churchill was one of a group of four political figures who were close friends spending many hours at clubs in the late 1920s and early 1930s discussing economics and politics. The other three were Harold Nicholson, John Maynard Keynes and Oswald Mosley.

After Diana’s divorce from Bryan Guinness in 1932, she moved into a flat in Belgravia round the corner to Oswald Mosley, but he was still married to his ailing first wife, Cynthia Curzon, daughter of Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India. Cynthia died in 1933, and Oswald wouldn’t leave her before then to live with his lover, Diana.

The first Baron Redesdale,  who paid for the Hall to be built in Moreton in Marsh was Diana’s grandfather. Her father, Algernon’s second son, David Freeman-Mitford, second Baron Redesdale, was the one I had remembered encountering in my researches for my book, Battle for the East End, published in 2011.

I’m glad I recognised the name today because it added other pieces to the jigsaw, as I looked up further information on Diana’s father. He was a hereditary member of the House of Lords, who attended the House conscientiously. Through the 1930s, both he and his wife Sydney, had developed a strong liking for fascism, and he became known more widely for his far right views and especially his open antisemitism.


Lord Redesdale, 2nd Baron Redesdale

The 2nd Baron Redesdale was initially scornful of his daughter Diana’s enthusiasm for Hitler. As a British ultra-nationalist and xenophobe he was known to be dismissive of, and insulting about, both French and German people, describing them as “frogs” and “huns”. His wife Sydney, Diana’s mother, shared Diana’s enthusiasm for the Führer. After they all went to a Nuremburg rally in 1938 they were of one mind in their admiration for Hitler.

In the late 1930s, Lord Redesdale was a member of several far right bodies populated especially by the upper classes, such as the Link, the Anglo-German Fellowship and the Right Club. The latter had been formed by the Tory politician and antisemitic obsessive, Captain Archibald Ramsey, described by the Daily Worker as Britain’s “number one Jew-baiter”.

One more piece of the jigsaw. Oswald Mosley worked hard to build four large fascist branches in the East End. Two of the biggest were in Shoreditch and Bethnal Green, where a layer of the working class lapped up Mosley’s increasingly strong antisemitism. More than 30 years earlier, though, much of the groundwork had already been laid by a populist right-wing anti-immigrant body called the British Brothers’ League. Their number one target was Jewish immigration.

One of their key figures who spoke at their largest local rallies was Major William Evans-british-brothers-league-posterGordon, a former Army captain in India, who later served as a diplomat in the British Raj. In 1900 he became the Tory MP for Stepney, in London’s East End. Evans-Gordon was a powerful lobbyist for the Aliens Bill, Britain’s first modern immigration law, passed by Lord Balfour’s government in 1905. A year before that act was passed Evans-Gordon’s niece,  Sydney Bowles, married Lord Redesdale, 2nd Baron Redesdale.