Amnesty International Portugal remembers the Holocaust


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“That which has happened is a warning. To forget it is guilt. It must be continually remembered for it was possible for this to happen and it remains possible for this to happen again at any minute.” Karl Jaspers – Philosopher.

Students at Lisbon’s Lyceum de Camoes debated how an educated and cultured society could fall under the spell of propaganda so strong that it could lead to the public consent of organised murder.

January 27 marked the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and Birkenau, the most famous or rather infamous of the death camps developed by the Germans in the Second World War to propagate a programme of mass murder on an industrial scale against a people, the likes of which had never been seen before.

To mark the atrocity, Amnesty International Portugal held an informative lecture on the causes of the Holocaust and its consequences, followed by a debate among students on whether a phenomenon such as this could happen again.

What was interesting in the debate that followed the lecture and films was how divided young educated people seem to be about political consciousness or the lack of it in today’s Portugal among the young and educated middle classes.

On the one hand there were those who agreed it was frightening that many young people today were more interested in buying clothes, CDs, going out with their friends to bars and discos and their external image rather than the weaknesses of their political leaders and the systemic political and economic crisis about them.

Others, however, rejected political indifference and said they might go out and enjoy a few beers with their friends but often sat down and discussed politics when doing so.

But the truth is, I suspect, that today’s voters in Portugal, and indeed in Europe, are more disenchanted than ever before with the political class.

Corruption and moral degeneration on a massive and media-driven scale around issues such as Portucale, Freeport, BPN, Operation Hurricane, Apito Dourado, Casa Pia and the Submarines Case coupled with a weak and slow legal system has been reflected in election voting turnout at the ballot box where less than 50 per cent of voters now think it worthwhile to exercise their right do so.

And it was noted in the debate that in the last election it was interesting if disturbing to note how many floating voters both on the centre-left and centre-right voted for the CDS-PP through disenchantment.

We have just, so economists and world leaders tell us, gone through one of the worst economic crises since the Great Depression in the late 1920s and 1930s

A crisis which ultimately proved fertile ground for the vast majority of voting populations in Germany, Italy, Spain and Portugal to reject liberal democracy in favour of totalitarian, authoritarian governments.

Rampant deflation, hyper currency devaluations and mega unemployment led German society following the First World War to allow a non-elected maverick with radical and racist ideas to assume power on the back of misery, hopelessness and despair.

We all know the result of that: planned economies that stifled innovation and creativity and failed to produce transactional goods that could be sold on the international market and racial superiority and bigoted violence on a massive scale.

In 12 years of power, the Nazis managed to create the most chaotic system of government in the history of mankind, only equalled and superseded by that of the Ceausescu, Mugabe, Saddam Hussein and Milosevic regimes in the post war world.

Maria Angela Pires, President of the General Assembly of Amnesty International in Portugal, noted with interest the overall opinions of many that some young people switch off from politics, don’t watch the news and are not interested in the outside world.

So therefore, given the right set of circumstances, political apathy and chronic economic and social problems, the persecution of a minority group can easily happen again.

I remember in the 1990s hearing the harrowing testimonies of a group of Bosnian-Serb women in a refugee camp in Croatia explain to me how their very neighbours and friends, whom they had grown up with, turned into vile murderers who hunted down their husbands and killed them with long scimitars.

The Holocaust happened and it has happened again, to some degree or other in Rwanda, Bosnia, Iraq, Uganda, Zimbabwe. And it can happen in a civilized and educated European country like Portugal – given the right set of circumstances and sufficient levels of despair.