I grew up in Vienna, a city with a long and chequered history of anti-Semitism. I studied history, and part of that we had to visit Mauthausen concentration camp. My present family are Jewish enough that my husband and children would have been sent off to the camps. (I probably would have been exterminated earlier as a disabled and mentally ill person). So the Holocaust is close to me.
Today marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The horrors the Allies discovered as always led us to say ‘never again’.
The EEC (now EU) was founded in a post-War spirit of economic co-operation. If we grew our economies together, if we moved and lived in (then) 7 and now 28 countries, then we would see each other as friends and neighbours, not as distant strangers that we could commit genocide against or go to war with. It’s been the single most successful anti-war and anti-genocide economic and social policy experiment since 1945.
And on Friday, we in the UK are going to leave. Already we have seen a dramatic rise in racism and xenophobia. Friends, colleagues and families are leaving because of the toxic environment and those that live here now feel unsafe and unwelcome. This is how anti-semitism started in Berlin in the early 1930s. Not with invasion and jackboots, but with the scapegoating of people for a national economic disaster and the entirely legal systematic othering, blaming, and ultimately genocide.
I am not being dramatic when I say there are clear and worrying parallels here. We see the EU and foreigners being scapegoated and blamed for systematic social policy failure that was the responsibility of the post-2008 austerity regime, not the EU. We see rights and freedoms being taken away and that being welcomed by the electorate. We see opinions and hatred that 10 years ago would have been seen as dangerous and unwelcome as part of the mainstream of policy and media.
German children in the 1960s started asking their parents, what did you do in the war? What did you do before? Did you oppose fascism, did you enable it, did you carry it out?
What are WE going to say when OUR children ask us in 20 years time, what did you do in Brexit? Did you oppose it, did you enable it, did you carry it out?
And I hope to the goddess that we are not living with concentration camps of refugees, that the rights and freedoms being taken away are not extended further, that the unthinkable does not become commonplace.
Because history has shown us where that ends.