I was checking Facebook memories this morning as I always do and saw an interesting link pop up. Past me seemed to find it compelling and present me went along for the ride. It was about a 1938 conference called the Évian Conference. Established by the United States, it called together a bunch of countries to tackle the growing Jewish refugee crisis in Europe. I’m not much of a history buff, but I read on.
The most salient point piquing my interest was that Hitler was there too. Before the thrust of his final solution, it was pretty clear that he saw the Jews as little more than meddlesome stray animals. His pull quote was thus: “I can only hope and expect that the other world, which has such deep sympathy for these criminals [Jews], will at least be generous enough to convert this sympathy into practical aid. We, on our part, are ready to put all these criminals at the disposal of these countries, for all I care, even on luxury ships.” Unfortunately, most countries decided that there wasn’t much they could do about taking in refugees. The US and Britain both took around 30-40K per year for three years. Australia took about 15K and the Dominican Republic took in around 100,000. Canada was conspicuously silent. It’s both mind-blowing and heartbreaking to me to think of the massive loss of life that could’ve been averted. All the suffering that amounted to history’s most infamous genocide.
So there I was at the bus stop getting pretty emotional reading about all this. Holding back tears thinking about how monstrous humanity can be. The ramifications of this huge event still being felt all these years later. Not just the death and suffering, but the callous reduction of human beings to lesser life forms in the eyes of those who rounded them up. It struck a personal note as my own heritage that, while not a massive cultural part of my life, was certainly warped by the Holocaust. Not only harrowed that this could happen in the first place, but that, even with this kind of racial persecution widely considered to be at the foremost of humanity’s atrocities, the resurgence of Nazi mentality exists in these times. How is it possible to hate an entire culture of people enough that you don’t consider their claim to life to be valid? It’s heavy stuff and it burns a hole in my soul to consider that there are obviously people out there who wish it had fully succeeded.
My dark haze was lifted somewhat by learning of the lengths to which Denmark went to in order to get refugees to safety. Apparently 99%, or roughly 7,800 Jews were safely evacuated to the safe haven of neutral ol’ Switzerland. Denmark, at the time, was gripped with a fierce national mentality of a close knit lifestyle. Of treasuring one’s community and neighbours. They took in those who hid, went out of their way to search up anyone who sounded Jewish in the phone book and warn them, offering asylum and passage elsewhere. Officials opposed orders from the Nazi regime and a number of Nazi soldiers stationed locally were encouraged to turn a blind eye. Members of the upper class contributed of their own fortunes to help contribute fare for travel. Locals put themselves at great personal risk to hide and ferry Jews across boarders under the watchful eye of the Nazi regime. Reading all this, the strength of human spirit and courage in the face of adversity was unbelievable. The citizens of Denmark could’ve rolled over like so many, but instead chose to fight for what was right. It gives me hope that, should another inhumane regime rise once more, the world would not stand for it. Not now, or ever again.
But then again disasters and genocides seem to happen every other week and the Western world doesn’t give two shits. Let’s not break a rib trying to blow ourselves here.