Holocaust Victims Commemoration

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SpeakersHarwin The Hon Don

Page: 16256

    The Hon. DON HARWIN [5.58 p.m.]: Last month marks the sixtieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe. The struggle against Nazism has been remembered at ceremonies honouring those who sacrificed their lives in the line of duty, and there have been commemorations focussed on the victims of Nazism's darkest horror—the Holocaust. The attempt to systematically eradicate the Jewish population of Europe through a methodical process of extermination is one of the most unspeakably appalling acts of the twentieth century. Histories of the war, documentaries and feature films have all chronicled the concentration camps and the gas chambers, and the six million victims have been memorialised in museums, most notably at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, which I have visited.

    I honour and congratulate the Jewish community for their determination to ensure that this horrific catastrophe is never forgotten. Perhaps because the dimension of the tragedy for the other communities victimised in the Nazi Holocaust was not as great as it was for the Jewish community, we sometimes forget the suffering of others whose predicament was nevertheless as profoundly tragic. The Polish people, for example, suffered enormously. The obliteration of Polish culture and identity was a key element in the Nazi strategy for obtaining lebensraum.

    Over the course of the war, more than six million Poles were exterminated—three million were Jewish, three million were not. Polish community leaders were among the early victims. Politicians, priests, teachers, judges and doctors were either executed publicly or sent to concentration camps. Soon after the better educated sections of the population were then targeted for execution or deportation. Approximately two million Polish Christians were deported into Germany or Russia as slave labour. Those considered unsuitable were sent to Auschwitz. Polish Christians were the initial victims of the concentration camps. For the first 21 months after it was opened, Auschwitz was inhabited almost exclusively by Polish Christians. Over 100,000 died there. Most of them were Roman Catholic.

    Many German Christians were also targeted for resisting Nazi ideology. I have visited the special barracks established at Dachau for Christian clergymen, most of whom were simply allowed to die of starvation or disease. Around 4,000 Jehovah Witnesses were imprisoned and ultimately shot for refusing to take a pledge of loyalty to the Third Reich. Like Jews, the Gypsies were chosen for total annihilation because they were deemed by the Nazis to be racially inferior. Most were sent to concentration camps. Nearly half a million Gypsies were killed in the Holocaust. Other citizens were victimised for offending the Nazi ideology of racial purity. Many adults of mixed African and German heritage were executed, while mixed-race children were systematically sterilised. Similarly, thousands of people with physical and mental disabilities were put to death or used for scientific experimentation.

    Homosexual men were hunted down across Germany and the various countries occupied by the Third Reich. Suspected homosexuals identified in the ranks of the armed forces or SS were routinely tortured and then imprisoned while still wearing their uniforms in order to encourage other prisoners to abuse them further. Similarly, all gay men imprisoned by the Nazis were forced to wear pink triangles so they would be further persecuted within the concentration camps. Over 10,000 gay men were executed by the Nazis. Sadly, while persecution of Jews, the disabled and people of mixed ethnicity is no longer acceptable, prejudice against homosexuals persists in our own society.

    In summary, it is believed that in addition to the six million Jews, around five million others perished in the Holocaust. And State-sponsored genocide has claimed the lives of millions of other victims around the world over the past century. This year marks the ninetieth anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, in which as many as two million Armenians are believed to have been deported and murdered in Turkey. Under Josef Stalin, countless millions of political dissidents were sent to labour camps where the survival rate was less than 3 per cent. One and a half million Cambodians died under the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s as a result of ethnic difference and extremist ideology. Only a decade ago, nearly a million Tutsis were killed in an open and organised attempt to eliminate an entire ethnic group from Rwanda. The anniversary of the end of the Second World War is an important opportunity to commemorate the 11 million people exterminated by the Nazis because of their ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, physical disability, or political beliefs. And in remembering the Holocaust we have the chance to honour all the victims of genocide by reaffirming our resolution never to allow such calamities to occur again.