Thoughts of Holocaust Memorial Day

My mother had a spirited imagination. Her claims of people she knew and were her antecedents bore scepticism. Her stories of dancing with Augustus John at the Pheasantry in the Kings Road, being part of the Bloomsbury Group, going on a date with Edward Heath and being given a ring by the American author Philip Roth where always received with an air of slight incredulity by her four sons.

When I was very young, we heard on the news that Herbert Lehman, a Jewish banker (founder of Lehman Brothers) and governor of New York in the 1920s, had died. My mother declared that we were related to him. I asked if that meant we were Jewish, and my mother said no, and I said, ‘Thank God’.  

My mother wondered – with some concern – why I was relieved not to be Jewish … well actually, she held her head in distress and asked, “Hugo, are you antisemitic?!” I said I was not (not actually, in those days, knowing what ‘antisemitic’ meant). I said I would rather not be persecuted for my religion for the rest of my life.

At school, I had just learned about the Holocaust, and the awful prejudice against the Jews around the world. The teacher only taught us the basics of what happened to the Jews during the war; the concentration camps, the awful conditions and the Nazi persecution. Nothing about the extermination of the Jews.

My mother – who lived through the war and served as a Leading Wren in the Royal Navy – sat my brothers and I down at the kitchen table, and proceeded to explain about the ‘Final Solution’. The terrible things that happened in the concentration camps. I remember not quite believing her.  

Ten years later, in 1973, the series ‘The World at War’ was a must-see television program, narrated by the silken tones of Sir Lawrence Olivier. Episode 20, I remember, came as a shock. I was only slightly aware of the Holocaust, the terrible numbers of deaths etc. ‘The World at War’ programme brought it to an actual reality. The images of the cruelty metered out on an elderly woman with a riding crop, in the hands of a young SS soldier, has remained with me most of my life. A young Jewish man, described how he had to empty the gas chambers in Auschwitz, taking the emaciated bodies to be incinerated in the furnaces. The young Jewish man – as do I – questioned whether there is a God, when He/She allows this kind of awful barbarity to happen.

A documentary is being shown on BBC 4, entitled ‘The US and the Holocaust’. It casts an unflattering view of the way the US begrudgingly admitting escaping Jews for a short period, culminating in only accepting a very few Jews into the USA, a country twice the size of the EU. We in the UK do not come off favourably either. The six-hour documentary tells us the difficulty Jews had in getting visas, culminating in a vast majority of Jews not being able to escape the Nazi onslaught throughout Europe, thus being rounded up and slaughtered in overcrowded ghettos and then concentration camps.

I am halfway into writing my fourth novel, entitled The Scars of David.  It is a love story between an SS colonel, Jürgen Stoltz, and a Jewess, Sara de la Vega. Stoltz falls in love with Sara when they meet in New York, at a German American Bund meeting in 1938. Sarah had been newly recruited by the FBI, to pose as a journalist, and to see what Stoltz was doing in New York. Unbeknownst to the FBI, and Stoltz, Sarah’s father was a Jewish filmmaker from Spain. Stoltz invites Sara back to Germany. They fall in love on the ship that takes them to Germany. However, when Stoltz discovers Sara is Jewish, he carves a Star of David onto her chest with a knife and sends her to Dachau Concentration Camp.

The horrors revealed during my research on Dachau, has been eye-opening. The way prisoners were treated – and this before the war had even started! Dachau was, in its early years, a forced labour detention camp for those judged as ‘enemies’ of the Nazi party: trade unionists, communists, and Democratic Socialists, and then Roma (Gypsies), homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses and of course, Jews. Dachau served as an SS training facility for all future SS concentration camps. They trained guards in the ‘doctrine of dehumanisation’. How was this not detected by ‘civilised’, democratic countries like the UK?

I am in awe of how people can treat other people. What happens to a man, such as Heinrich Himmler, to make him decide to rid the world of a race of human beings? What has happened to a person that would allow themselves to think it right to kill and murder so many people? I cannot understand how the rest of the world had not seen this happening and allow it to manifest. How could the world allow over six and a half million Jews to be slaughtered, let alone all the millions of Gypsies, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses and disabled non-Aerian people – including children? Is it happening again in Russia, North Korea, Afghanistan, Iran, or South Sudan? The Nazis had claimed to be Christian and were protecting Christianity from the Jewish stranglehold. How can anybody be part of a religion that could be so cruel, or allow such brutality? Would a God or deity, of any religion, forgive those who kill, harm or are gratuitously vicious to another living creature?

My book, ‘The Scars of David’ should be out in 2024.

For ‘The Charlotte’s War Trilogy’ go to my website:

Published: ‘Girl on a Golden Pillow’ available to buy now. ‘Charlotte’s War’ will be published in April 2023 and the last book in the trilogy, ‘The Wasp Trap’ will be published in August 2023.

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