Michael Rosen – Why learn about genocide?

Children’s Laureate and author Michael Rosen shares his thoughts on why it is important to learn about genocide. 

Luke, Hannah and Charlotte, from Turing House School and Claverham Community College respectively spoke to three prominent public figures about why it was important to learn about the Holocaust and other genocides. Here is what Michael Rosen, children’s author,  poet, professor, and Children’s Laureate (2007 – 2009) said:

Hello Charlotte,

Hello Hannah,

Hello Luke,

I hope I can have a go at responding to your questions.

The Holocaust means many different things but one thing it can tell us is that if a ruthless group of people want to carry out genocide, it’s very hard – but not impossible – to stop them. We have to remember that Germany in the 1920s had many of the systems and structures that we think of as being strong enough to resist totalitarianism, dictatorship and, following that, the acts of persecution and genocide that led to so many millions of innocent, non-combatants (i.e people not in armed forces) ending up dead. Germany had elections, there was a free press, there were fair trials, people could belong to trade unions and political parties. What follows from this is that we have to piece together what enabled this ruthless group of people to win power democratically then seize totalitarian power, and then manage to control a society so that it could re-arm, invade other countries and carry out genocide  (or technically speaking, several genocides i.e. the mass killing of several differ- ent peoples: Jews, ‘Gypsies’, Poles, Russians) and the enslavement of millions too. How was that possible?

The ‘Never Again’ motto or slogan is important but as you suggest, for that to come about we have to do things or say and write things. I have no easy solutions but I would suggest any or some of the following: join and be active in democratic organisations that represent your point of view; fight for those organisations to be democratic and stay democratic; be alert to acts or decisions that those in power make which hinder or restrict the basic freedoms of a democratic society. When we see and hear these things we need to belong to democratic organisations that push back against such acts or decisions. Be alert to scapegoating – bad things in a society do have causes but scapegoating is blaming individuals or types or stereotypes for things that have gone wrong, blaming them for things that such people are not responsible for. When we see and hear scapegoating we have to speak out against it, expose the falseness of what people say or do against the people being scapegoated. We might have to sometimes defend those being scapegoated by again being part of democratic organisations that are trying to do the defending.

I hope some of this is helpful. Do not take anything I’ve written here as a final word on the matter. They are only suggestions for you to chew over, talk about, adapt, change, argue with and to use for you to come up with ideas of your own. I’m only an individual like you.

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