In July 1938, the representatives of thirty-two countries – including the United Kingdom – met at Evian in France. They were posed with a problem: Germany, now five years into living under Nazi rule, wanted to complete their policy of judenrein (the idea that Germany and its ever expanding list of territories be cleansed entirely of people of the Jewish faith). I’m not here to tell you how wrong that idea was; there isn’t a rational person on earth who doesn’t understand and believe that it is unthinkable that anybody wish to rid themselves of other human beings, whether that be due to their gender, the colour of their skin or their religion. I hope – I really hope – that I do not have to preach to the converted by offering up persuasive arguments for this.
At the Evian Conference, those thirty-two people discussed the German plea for somewhere to send their Jewish population. The Nazis had considered mass deportation to Madagascar (a worse fate than, at first, it sounds: living conditions in Madagascar are such that those deported there would likely starve to death) but decided that this would be impracticable. They had thought about encouraging the Jewish refugees to seek asylum in Palestine but unrest in the country made it difficult for this to happen. And so it became increasingly clear to the rest of the world that the Jewish Germans – and those living in countries recently annexed by Germany – were no longer safe to stay in their domiciles of origin.
Remember that this was Britain and America and France at the conference. Countries we believe were fighting on the side of humanity in their subsequent attempts to vanquish the Nazis. It would be nice to hear that they opened their arms and their homes and their countries to the suddenly threatened Jewish people. It would be nice to believe that they did everything in their power to halt the injustice, the inhumane series of events which was about to unfold.
But they didn’t. Thirty-one of the thirty-two countries offered only excuses when asked to relax their immigration policies, many fearing the economic impact it may have.
We know what happened next. We live with the knowledge of what happened after we had left the Jewish people of Germany and Austria and Czechoslovakia (amongst others) to their fate.
Why am I talking about this now? I’m talking about this now because history is – once again – repeating itself. We are once again placed in a situation where we could help. We could use our knowledge and experience of the brutal persecution in Afghanistan’s history to predict an outcome for the future. And we could do our utmost best to alleviate the situation. It might not happen. We might be wrong in our assumption. But does that mean we shouldn’t act now to keep people safe, instead of waiting ten years; shaking our heads at a documentary showing footage of the atrocities and thinking that someone, somewhere surely could have done something.
There is action we can take now. And, yet, once again, we seem reluctant to take it.
This is not a politically aligned blog post. This is not about politics but about humanity and about regarding everyone’s life as being as important as our own. This is about not sitting down and watching whilst terrible, terrible things happen.
This is about being a living, breathing, thinking, feeling human and following a path of compassion.
We won’t get this chance again.