We always have the chance to do the right thing – a column by MP John Hayes

Holocaust survivor Harry Bibring ANL-141212-160454001
Holocaust survivor Harry Bibring ANL-141212-160454001

Primo Levi, the author and Auschwitz survivor wrote “monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous.

“More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.” 

The idea, that wickedness made routine will be unthinkingly accepted by ordinary people, was memorably summed up by Hannah Arendt, who after observing the trial of the Nazi Adolf Eichmann, coined the phrase “the banality of evil”.

The banal can deceive. The Nazi’s were, at first, discounted as merely clowns, frauds and thugs. Now, as then, those that clown –feigning bonhomie – whilst feeding despair and fuelling hate are the enemies of goodness.

Ultimately the idea that evil can be banal is a dangerous cliché that has enabled many to overlook the true meaning of the Holocaust.

Historians have now systematically deconstructed the comforting notion that monsters like Eichmann were merely simple men, incapable of comprehending their actions.

The distinguished historian, Michael Burleigh, has documented gratuitous acts of cruelty by Eichmann and others involved in the Holocaust.

As the great author Saul Bellow wrote in his masterpiece ‘Mr Sammler’s Planet’: “Do you think the Nazi’s didn’t know what murder was? Everybody knows what murder is... The best and purest human beings, from the beginning of time, have understood that life is sacred.”

Only by embracing our own humanity can we really grasp the horror of the Holocaust, and so comprehend the evil of which men are capable.

The Holocaust Education Trust works to raise awareness and understanding of these terrible events so that they will never be repeated, its Outreach Programme supports visits to schools and colleges by Holocaust survivors, such as the visit of Harry Bibring to Gleed School last week.

Harry was lucky enough to escape Vienna as part of the Kindertransport, the great evacuation of Jewish Children following the devastation of Kristallnacht.

That immigration rules were waved and emergency measures put in place by the British Government to help thousands of children to escape should remind us that we always have the chance to do the right thing; to make the choice between good and evil.