Cork — and Ireland — has had the honour this week of welcoming two extra-special guests; two people who as young children in 1942, in Vichy France, were saved from what would have been their guaranteed deaths in Auschwitz.
They came to attend the ceremonial opening of Cork’s Mary Elmes bridge, and also the launch of an exhibition about the life of the Ballintemple woman who, as the Third Reich stepped up its programme of murder to industrial levels, played a major part in saving the lives of no fewer than 427 children from the trains that carried the Jews of France from Paris for what Adolf Eichmann described as “emigration” to the east.
In travelling to our shores, they have brought with them a lesson, and a warning, from this continent’s all too recent blood-drenched history. We must never, ever, forget.
One of our guests, understandably, draws attention to a fear that with the growth of far-right movements we face the possibility seeing this tragic history being repeated. This, though, is a warning that ought to come with a caveat or two.
It would not be an exaggeration to label the people who are currently calling the shots in Britain’s Labour Party as far-Left, however uncomfortable many of the party’s MPs and members might feel in such coarse company. The party Mr Corbyn leads — and the anti-Semitism it is alleged to harbour — is currently the subject of a formal investigation by Britain’s Equality and Human Rights Commission. Only one other British political party has faced such an inquiry; that was the fascist British National Party. Anti-Semitism isn’t interested in the conventional Left-Right spectrum.
History, of course, never repeats itself in precisely the same way. Germany and Austria — the hothouses of anti-Semitism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries — were not in any way, shape or form faced with the sudden, large-scale immigrations that along with the fallout from the 2008 banking crash and the problems inherent in the eurozone’s economic model have fuelled the advance of far-Right movements across mainland Europe from the Netherlands and Belgium to Poland and Sweden to France, Italy and Greece.
There is, lastly, the error of conflating in some European states far-Right extremism with a visceral and legitimate conservative resistance to what is perceived — and feared — as the European Union’s federalist ambitions, which undoubtedly was one of the reasons for the British vote to leave in 2016. A federal Europe was not what that country was promised when in 1975 at its first referendum it chose, with a very large majority, to remain a member of the then Common Market.
None of this means that the lesson brought to our city by our guests this week can or should be forgotten as we walk by or across the Mary Elmes bridge. Only those who want to wipe the Holocaust out of history can benefit from such a dense and repugnant amnesia.