Selective history is dangerous: Truth serves but myth undermines

Just before Christmas, an EU report found that antisemitism is growing, or at least becoming more publicly active.

Selective history is dangerous: Truth serves but myth undermines

Just before Christmas, an EU report found that antisemitism is growing, or at least becoming more publicly active. Jews in 12 countries are increasingly worried. Hundreds said they

experienced a physical, antisemitic attack in the past year, 28% said they had been harassed, while 89% of the 16,395 Europeans — who are also Jews — surveyed were concerned by online antisemitism.

Recent legislation criminalising attribution to Poland of complicity in WWII’s Holocaust is considered symptomatic of the latest wave of European antisemitism — as are unresolved conflicts in Britain’s Labour party. Israel’s successful, but dishonest, campaign conflating Zionism’s “settlements” with antisemitism, unfortunately add to that momentum.

Despite that darkening, or maybe to counter it, ceremonies were held yesterday to mark Holocaust Memorial Day. January 27 was chosen, as it marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. To augment yesterday’s events, Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, a charity funded by the British government, commissioned a survey to give that great barbarism contemporary context. The results are at least sobering, if not shocking. It found one-in-20 British adults do not believe the Holocaust happened and 8% say it is exaggerated. Almost half said they did not know how many Jews were murdered; one in five underestimated, saying fewer than 2m were killed. At least 6m Jews died.

Unsurprisingly, this ignorance has shocked those who remember. Olivia Marks-Woldman, of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, said: “I don’t think [the poll respondents] are

active Holocaust deniers... But their ignorance means they are susceptible to myths and distortions.” The Holocaust is taught in British schools, but “that might only be one lesson”, she added. “And people who are middle-aged or over may never have been taught about it.”

As one of the consequences of under-teaching history dominates today’s British, European and Irish politics, it might be wise to ask if, in this newly-minted Republic, we teach history impartially. Are some of us as poorly informed, as blinkered, as the 5% of British people who deny the Holocaust? Two opportunities to test this came last week. One

was the centenary of the first Dáil, the other the centenary of Soloheadbeg — our War of Independence Fort Sumter. That one of the organisers of the Soloheadbeg event, when asked if the names of the two RIC men — both Irishmen — killed there might be added to the monument, disingenuously replied, “it was a national monument and could not be interfered with,” says far more than was intended about how narrow, how biased our view of our bloody past. As so many anniversaries loom, it might be wise to take President Michael D Higgins’ advice, when he warned that we have to be prepared to have communal truths, sometimes communal mythologies, challenged as civil war archives get renewed attention. After all, the destructive power of memory can be surpassed by the destructive power of not remembering accurately. Truth serves, myth undermines and, as Brexit threatens a huge change, we must winnow one from the other.

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