Did you see Who Do You Think You Are? on BBC1 last week? Fans of the series have been waiting for this last episode for a while but it was worth it. Unbelievably moving. Very stark. None of the happy chat with relations before or after the search. But it was perfectly pitched in this respect. Ruby Wax has suffered from mental health issues for twenty years and her search was very much to look for answers about the parental behaviour which she knows damaged her.
Ruby had never been told anything about her parents' history or their families. She admitted during the programme that only her continuing medication was at that point keeping her calm about what she was finding out. If you haven't seen the programme, please do click on the link above. I don't want to spoil it by saying much more except to say that there are both Holocaust and mental health links.
And on a connected note, last week my daughter came home from school in quite a state. They had been reading The Boy In Striped Pyjamas in English at school and her teacher had decided to show them a film about Auschwitz. My girl was terribly affected by it and said she had cried in the lesson. She is only eleven.
If you have read this blog before, you will know that I try to link history to current events and trends. I am very much in favour of learning the lessons of history, of not turning away from difficult subjects, of fighting back against inequality and so on. However, the tearful questions which arose from my daughter's experience last week really tested me. Let me give you a taster:
1) 'The really skinny people were smiling in the film.'
'Well, I think those people were probably being filmed by the American and British liberators. It sounds like survivor photos.'
'But why didn't we do anything sooner? Did they know? How could they not help?'
Can open, worms everywhere.
2) 'Why do I need to know this, to see this stuff?'
I'm sorry you got such a shock and I don't agree it was the right time to show you a film, but it is important that everyone knows about what happened. It mustn't ever happen again.
'But this wouldn't ever happen again!'
We don't know that. That's why we should stand up for what we believe in, for what's right.
'Is this to do with Donald Trump? Could he do this?'
What the hell do you say to this, other than try to be comforting whilst worrying about Trump, Putin and the rest.
And so on and so forth.
I do not agree with how this teacher has handled the subject matter and I have told the school so. However, in some ways I was glad to see the connections being made. I wrote the other week about not just looking forward in our own lives and the Holocaust is probably the most horrendous example in history of something which should never be forgotten. The Nazis manipulated public thoughts and feelings in ways which should provide a terrible lesson to us all. If they could achieve such control using relatively primitive methods of propaganda, what could - are - those in power doing today? With all the modern communication methods available to them?
The world is becoming a nastier place for all sorts of people and all sorts of reasons. And the gaps between the haves and have nots are becoming larger. A world like that is not why we fought the Nazis. It will soon be Remembrance Sunday. Remember those who fought and died but also the reasons why.