Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Shoah: not a subject for Punch-and-Judy politics

All right, so it was crass of David Cameron to describe sixth-form visits to Auschwitz, by implication, as a gimmick. As a public relations professional, he should have taken care to check the offending briefing notes.

However, for Labour's spin machine to go into overdrive, culminating in an OTT question to the PM on Wednesday by Gerald Kaufman, seeking to paint the Tory leader as an anti-Semite, was stupid.

The Holocaust Education Trust is a respectable organisation as the list of its trustees makes clear. Its council covers the spectrum of party politics, Conservatives (James Clappison, Andrew Lansley) included. The others are: Louise Ellman MP (Labour), Michael Karp,
Lord Levy (Labour), Lembit Opik MP (Liberal Democrat), Sir Antony Sher KBE, Stephen Twigg. The Auschwitz visits are part of a carefully worked-out programme, and not an isolated trip.

I still have some doubts as to whether the visits to the Holocaust Museum at £1.5m of taxpayers' money annually (and, apparently, requiring a top-up from each school) are absolutely necessary, if the rest of the Holocaust education programme is doing its job. Certainly, not enough of the original installations are left to convince firm holocaust-deniers, and it appears to rely a lot on reconstruction.

The painstaking BBC TV documentary by Laurence Rees, "Auschwitz: the Nazis and the Final Solution", should be enough to bring home to people the enormity of the Nazis' operations - and also the almost insidious way in which they began. One should not forget that mentally-handicapped people were the first to be annihilated. They were followed by gypsies and homosexuals as well as Jews.

Then there is Claude Landesman's nine-hour documentary, Shoah, which makes extensive use of eye-witness evidence.

One hopes that the holocaust education programme directs students to survivors still amongst us. It should also point out that there have been other extermination programmes, whose authors should not escape the condemnation of history merely because their actions were not as well documented as those of the Nazis.

No comments: