It was, of course , unimagineably terrible and it is fitting that we have a Holocaust Memorial Day lest we forget it. Yet I’m wondering, too, whether mixed in with it all there isn’t something of that commonest of human stratagems for dealing with unacknowledged guilt, projecting it outwards. What more admirably suitable objects on which such projections might fall than the Nazis who were so awful? Why, for example, don’t we have a West Indian Slavery Day? Were the gas chambers worse than the horrors of the triangular crossing? It is a moot point. In the nineteenth century the British allowed a million and a half Irish to starve to death in the name of a perverted version of Adam Smith, just as the Holocaust was perpetrated in the name of a perverted version of Darwin. According to some versions of events, British troops were taking the last reserves of rice from starving ryots in the great Indian famines of the late nineteenth century because the Indian tax take was the collateral for the British Government’s debt to Rothschild’s Bank.
This is a an eye-witness report by a French traveller on a heavily armed grain train, Pierre Loti:
‘At the first village at which we stop, a sound is heard as soon as the wheels have stopped their noisy clanking – a peculiar sound that strikes a chill into us even before we have understood its nature. It is the horrible song which we shall hear so frequently now that we have entered the land of famine. Nearly all the voices are those of children, and the sound has some resemblance to the uproar that is heard in the playground of a school, but there is an undefined note of something harsh and weak and shrill that fills us with pain. Oh! Look at the poor little things jostling there against the barrier, stretching out their withered hands towards us from the end of the bones which represent their arms. Every part of their meagre skeleton protrudes with shocking visibility through the brown skin that hangs in folds about them; their stomachs are so sunken that one might think that their bowels had been altogether removed. Flies swarm on their lips and eyes, drinking what moisture might still exude….“Maharaja! Maharaja!” all the little voices cry at once in a kind of quivering song. There are some who are barely five years old, and these too cry “Maharaja! Maharaja!” as they stretch their terribly wasted little hands through the barrier…..Even now there are four wagons of rice coupled to the train behind, and loads pass daily, but no-one will give anything to the children, not even a handful, not even the few grains on which they might survive for a little while more. These wagons are reserved for the inhabitants of those towns where people still have money, and can pay.’
When I was a boy in the nineteen fifties a monk used to come down to school assembly just before the end of the autumn term and ask us to bring back old Christmas cards, which he then sent to the Kikuyu who lived on the slopes of Kilimanjaro and liked to put the cards up in their kraals. Only now do I discover that in these very years thousands of Kikuyu were being tortured and castrated in British concentration camps. How naïve we were. How about Castrate a Kikuyu Day?
But perhaps we need psychological mechanisms to relieve the guilt and anxiety aroused by what we are doing, or failing to do, in these our own times even more. The scientists are now unanimous. If we don’t quit oil a.s.a.p we could be facing a 4 to 6 degree temperature increase later this century. It could mean hundreds of millions homeless and short of food and water, and, the scientists fear, quite possibly vicious resource wars that could well go nuclear. Half of all known species could have disappeared by the end of the century, much of it caused by climate change Is this mass extinction of millions of beautiful creatures that took millions of years to evolve even worse than the Holocaust? Increasingly the scientists are pointing out that there is no reason why runaway global warming, once it takes hold, should stop at 6 degrees. In two or three hundred years it could reach 12, which would be pretty much the end of human and most other forms of life. Perhaps, in the spirit of the Medieval Church that sold you forgiveness not only for sins you had already committed but also for ones you were going to commit, we might memorialize, as it were, this coming future and greater holocaust by End of the World Day. But when to hold it? Archbishop Ussher calculated that the world began on October 23rd 4004 BC. That would suit admirably. Why not October 23rd to memorialize its end? Holocaust To Come Day. Anything but actually doing something about it.