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In a word . . . Holocaust

As racism, xenophobia, and a general prejudice against difference increases and multiplies across the western world, it is appropriate we be reminded of where this can lead on this day of all days – Holocaust Memorial Day.

It was on January 27th 1945 that the Soviet Red Army liberated remaining inmates of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland. There, where over a million people were exterminated, the vast majority of them Jews, but including gypsies, gays, and prisoners of war.

An estimated one in six of all Jews exterminated in the Holocaust died at that camp. It is an illustration of what can happen when unbridled prejudice is allowed free rein, whether that be based on race, religion, or sexual orientation.

What a tragedy that a mere 73 years after Auschwitz we see such forces on the rise again, and on both sides of the Atlantic. It illustrates why we need to be reminded repeatedly of where this can lead.

And why we need also to recall what brought about what is now the EU with the profound moral purpose of preventing such ever happening again. However delusional such lofty aspiration may appear, it must continue to be striven towards. The alternative is a drift to that barbarism which unbridled humanity seems so naturally inclined.

Appropriately “the power of words” is the theme for Holocaust Memorial Day 2018, not least when we see what such as Twitter can release in all its ugly, dark viciousness. We also witness how it is being used to beat down what is true as though repetition of the lie makes it fact.

The theme was chosen to explore how language was used in the past and is being used in the present to foment prejudice. In Ireland we are uniquely placed when it comes to this, located as we are between the US and the UK.

Increasingly in the public domain of both countries words are what politicians choose them to mean at any given moment. Where truth is deemed fake and what is false is declared true in the service of base and dangerous prejudices.

Holocaust Memorial Day is a reminder of where such prejudice-fuelled politics can lead and not just where the Jewish people are concerned. It delivers an upside down world where unrestrained power rules, mercilessly, and no one is safe.

Holocaust from Latin holocaustum; Greek holokauston for “a thing wholly burnt”.