Holocaust Memorial Day Event 2019: “If we fail to learn from history, we are doomed to re-live it”
Holocaust survivor, Manfred Goldberg, issued a wake up call at our Holocaust Memorial Day staff event last Wednesday: “When the worst Nazi atrocities became public knowledge and after many, many declarations of ‘never again’ I never dreamt that I would ever witness the then subsequent genocides or the growing swell of holocaust denial and the resurgence of anti-Semitism such as we are experiencing today.”
He spoke out about the curse of social media: “Social media websites cannot escape responsibility. They should have been a blessing, but instead have transformed into the curse of our age. Despite repeated promises of action there appears to be no boundaries to the lies, distortions, and the extremist views they are permitted to spew out excessively,” adding that “if we leave things as they are, we are heading in a direction, where no less than our western civilization is at stake.”
Goldberg, who was born in Germany in 1930, delivered a powerful, harrowing and moving account of his years as a teenager during the Nazi regime, being arrested and deported together with his mother and younger brother in December 1941 and sent to three camps over a period of three and a half years.
He shared his memories of the horrifyingly inhumane conditions in the camps and during transports, and spoke of the cruel procedure of periodic mass selections, during which Nazi commanders decided whom to kill and whom to keep in order to work as slaves in factories near the camps.
Goldberg, who came to the UK after being liberated on 3 May 1945, told staff in London, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol, Stamford (USA) and Warsaw (Poland) about the horror of his nine year old brother being taken away and murdered, of dead bodies piling up in the camp, about working seven days a week while on a starvation diet and about the desperation of starved people dragging themselves to the camp’s electric fences in order to take their own lives by either being electrocuted or being shot.
He shared the dramatic details of an older inmate whispering to him to lie about his real age of 13 and to claim he was 17 and how he survived being sent to sea on a wooden barge with 1,000 other camp inmates and was finally rescued by sheer coincidence when British tanks passed by and soldiers took care of him.
He also pointed out, that Jews, who had wanted to flee Germany and were seeking asylum in other countries, were met with total indifference and found that most countries either had tightly shut borders or followed annual visa quotas and usually required the immigrant to have the sponsorship of a citizen of the recipient country.
Reflecting on his traumatic experiences, Goldberg invited his global audience to ponder on the wise saying: “If we fail to learn from history, we are doomed to re-live it.”
NWM US Chief Economist and Co-Sponsor of Energized Employees, Michelle Girard, emphasised the importance of fighting the growing polarisation globally and between country men: “As I think about Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur and Syria, we have to admit that the hateful events of the Holocaust have not taught the world to stop genocide. Such events have filtered into our modern history,” she concluded, pointing out that everyone at the bank “has a responsibility to create, nurture and safeguard a workplace that fosters understanding, respect and the support of each other.”
NatWest Holdings Deputy CEO, Alison Rose, reminded the audience “the passage of time does not diminish the significance of the atrocities of the Holocaust. We have a duty to keep these stories alive and passing them down so that future generations understand the full horrors of what happened and prevent them from happening again,” adding that “we recognise the on-going struggle of people all over the world who face discrimination, because of their race, religion, sexuality or political beliefs. Their fight continues, and we stand by them.”
She urged employees “to celebrate differences, to dispel the fear that fuels hatred, and to reconfirm the truth that regardless of the constructed dividers we are all the same,” and remarked that she is committed for the bank to exemplify a culture of inclusion, and “that we take this further so it resonates in our communities where we live and work and beyond.”
Ruth Laslo, US regional lead of the bank’s Jewish Society, which organised the event in collaboration with the bank’s Multicultural Network, encouraged the audience to “learn more about each other, which is so important as through understanding comes respect and through respect there can be no hate, bigotry or genocide,” with Andrew Roland, Global Chair of the bank’s Jewish Society emphasising that “diversity makes us stronger.” Quoting a survey among 2,000 people in the UK in which 5% of respondents claimed the Holocaust did not happen, 8.5% believed the events were exaggerated and 45% didn’t know how many people had been killed during the Holocaust. Andrew pointed to education being vital and warned of the dangers of unacceptable racist behaviour going unchallenged.
Ruben Rotman, President and CEO of Jewish Human Service Agencies, commended the bank: “The fact that you pause to bring together employees to recognise this world-wide day of remembrance should not go unnoticed.” He also encouraged staff to not only remember but also to take action by supporting the Jewish federations.
We are raising funds for two charities, Jewish Federations (in the US) and Jewish Care (in the UK), which provide vital support to Holocaust survivors and their families. Please give generously:
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6th February 2019