Holocaust Memorial Day – the relevance to atheists

Nazi Germany murdered six million Jews in a systematic, state-sponsored campaign of persecution and extermination now known as the Holocaust. It persecuted, incarcerated and murdered millions of its own citizens, and those of the countries it invaded, on the basis of skin colour; disability; sexual orientation; ethnicity; religious belief or political affiliation.

The Holocaust was a defining event of the twentieth century and is part of both our history and our contemporary life:

  • Refugees fled here from Nazi persecution.
  • Britain was engaged in a war to defeat Nazi occupation and oppression.
  • UK soldiers liberated Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
  • Survivors and refugees who rebuilt their lives here have made major contributions to present day UK society. [Including Sigmund Freud]
  • Britain played a lead role in developing the international conventions protecting universal human rights after WW2.

Atheists fought in the allied forces, were rescuers and were among the survivors and refugees that rebuilt their lives in the UK, for example Sigmund Freud:

“In March 1938, the Nazis invaded Austria and put Freud and his family in mortal danger. Freud managed to escape from Vienna with the help of the wealthy Princess Marie Bonaparte, whom he adored, and of the government of the United States of America, which he relentlessly disliked. President Roosevelt even took a measure of interest in Freud’s case, but that did not change Freud’s mind about the rogue republic at all. America is enormous, he liked to say, but it is an enormous mistake.

Before leaving Vienna, Freud gave the Nazis a parting gift. They had made it clear to him that his emigration was contingent on signing a statement saying that he had not been molested in any way and that he had been able to continue with his scientific work. Freud signed, but then added a coda of his own devising: “I can most highly recommend the Gestapo to everyone.”

Edmundson Mark (2007) ‘Defender of the Faith?’ in the New York Times, 9 September 2007


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