Extinction Rebellion Founder’s Holocaust Remarks Spark Fury – Kate Connolly and Matthew Taylor | The Guardian UK

German politicians accuse Roger Hallam of downplaying significance of genocide

Kate Connolly in Berlin and Matthew Taylor | The Guardian UK

A co-founder of Extinction Rebellion [XR] has sparked anger in Germany after referring to the Holocaust as “just another fuckery in human history”.

Roger Hallam has been accused of downplaying the Nazis’ genocide of 6 million Jews by arguing in an interview that the significance of the Holocaust has been overplayed.

In the interview with the weekly Die Zeit, in which he referred to the Holocaust several times, Hallam said: “The fact of the matter is, millions of people have been killed in vicious circumstances on a regular basis throughout history.”            

He listed other mass killings in the past 500 years, including the Belgians’ slaughter in the Congo. “They went to the Congo in the late 19th century and decimated it.” He said that seen in this context, the Holocaust was “almost a normal event … just another fuckery in human history.”

Germany’s foreign minister, Heiko Maas, was among those to condemn Hallam’s remarks, saying the systematic state-sponsored killing that wiped out two-thirds of Europe’s Jewish population between 1939 and 1945 could not be referred to as “just another fuckery”.

Maas tweeted: “The Holocaust is more than millions of dead and horrific torture methods. To want to murder and exterminate Jewish women and men is uniquely inhumane. We must always be aware of that so we can be certain: never again!”

The German publisher Ullstein announced on Wednesday it was pulling out of publishing Hallam’s book Common Sense for the 21st Century, which had been due to appear in German bookshops on 26 November.

In the interview, Hallam said Germans were being constrained by what he referred to as their obsession with the Holocaust, describing it as a national trauma the extremity of which “can create a paralysis in actually learning the lessons from it”.

Hallam’s remarks drew the ire of fellow climate campaigners, historians and politicians across Germany.

The German branch of Extinction Rebellion tweeted: “We explicitly distant ourselves from Roger Hallam’s belittling and relativising statements about the Holocaust. In so doing he contravenes the principles of XR, which does not tolerate antisemitism, and he is no longer welcome in XR Germany.”

The group accused Hallam of “often paralysing” Extinction Rebellion’s work through other controversial statements on sexism, racism and democracy, several of them made in interviews with German media.

It said XR Germany had “definitely not been hindered by remembrance of the systematic mass murder of millions of Jewish people in our country”.

Tino Pfaff, a spokesman for Extinction Rebellion Germany, told German media he was in favour of excluding Hallam from the movement.

Hallam claimed his comments had been taken out of context. “I want to fully acknowledge the unimaginable suffering caused by the Nazi Holocaust that led to all of Europe saying ‘never again’,” he said.

“But it is happening again, on a far greater scale and in plain sight. The global north is pumping lethal levels of CO2 into the atmosphere and simultaneously erecting ever greater barriers to immigration, turning whole regions of the world into death zones. That is the grim reality.”

He added: “We are allowing our governments to willingly, and in full knowledge of the science, engage in genocide of our young people and those in the global south by refusing to take emergency action to reduce carbon emissions.”

Other German commentators said Hallam’s remarks were reminiscent of comments made by the anti-immigrant Alternative für Deutschland [AfD], which has sought to downplay the crimes of the Nazi era.

In 2016, AfD’s co-leader Alexander Gauland drew widespread criticism after referring to the 12-year Nazi era in Germany as a “mere birdshit” in 1,000 years of “otherwise successful German history”. He later called his statement “misconstruable” and “politically unwise”.

Benjamin Wolf, a Vienna-based cultural commentator, tweeted:

This is despicable – and no, “good intentions” don’t get you a pass on being historically illiterate.

The Holocaust was not “just another fuckery in human history” and German culture of memory does not “paralyze” the country. #ExtinctionRebellion https://t.co/r4seRgavjy

Armin Laschet, a leading member of the Christian Democratic Union and leader of North Rhine-Westphalia state, called Hallam’s remarks “unacceptable”. He tweeted: “What’s with this antisemitic and extreme right-wing framing, when he was supposedly talking about climate protection?”

The veteran Green politician Volker Beck wrote on Twitter: “This type of person, and he in particular, bring the climate movement into disrepute.”

Robert Habeck, a co-head of the Green party, urged environment campaigners to “very clearly distance” themselves from Hallam, saying he had “disqualified” himself with comments that were “unworthy of discussion”.

Die Zeit interviewed Hallam in a “renovated country house” in south Wales before the planned publication of his book in Germany. On bail after his involvement in an attempt to disrupt Heathrow airport in September, he said he was having to report at the local police station on a daily basis and was sleeping in a barn.

In the interview he repeated calls he has made in the past for the climate crisis to be treated with as much emotion as Auschwitz, the largest Nazi concentration camp, where 1.1 million people died. “Emotionality is the only way you can get people to do something,” he said.

When the reporter, Hannah Knuth, suggested to him that the Holocaust stood alone in history in terms of its implementation and scale, Hallam responded: “There are various debates as to whether the Holocaust is unique or not. I know that that’s the conviction in Germany. But with all respect I don’t agree with it.”

In a statement, Extinction Rebellion UK “unreservedly denounced” Hallam’s comments, which it said were “made in a personal capacity in relation to the recent launch of his book”.

The statement said: “Jewish people and many others are deeply wounded by the comments today. Internal conversations have begun with the XR conflict team about how to manage the conflict process that will address this issue.

“We stand by restorative outcomes as preferable, although in some cases exclusion is necessary … We stand in solidarity with XR Germany, with Jewish communities, and with all those affected by the Holocaust, both in the past and in our times.”

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Comments

  • Clyde Duncan  On 11/24/2019 at 6:26 pm

    “CONTROVERSY” sells news – “CONTROVERSY” sells books …..

    This is how the media decides what we think about and talk about EVERY DAY!!

    NOW, I ask you – ‘Don’t you want to read the book??’

  • Trevor  On 11/24/2019 at 6:38 pm

    They tell African-Americans to “get over slavery” and that “we are all equal” while stealing Caribbean and African resources, land and culture.

    I also don’t believe that those “Jews” are actually the Jews in the Bible who were enslaved in Egypt. Those European Jews look like they can’t even fetch stone, much less be suitable to enslave for forced labour.

  • Clyde Duncan  On 11/24/2019 at 11:27 pm

    Trevor: It is always tough to get down to any serious discussion about the subject of European Jews without invoking ALEXANDER GAULAND and his very accurate defence that any statement on the subject maybe “misconstruable” and “politically unwise”.

  • Clyde Duncan  On 11/25/2019 at 7:48 pm

    Jews Who Think Now Is the Time to Leave, BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE – AGAIN

    In Germany, every Jewish celebration is a collective act of defiance against a rising, violent far right. But shadowed by thousands of armed extremists, and an ascending political far right, they face a fateful choice: STAY or GO

    Robert Ogman | Haaretz

    For pedestrians in the city center of the southern German city of Konstanz two Sundays ago, the joyful procession through the old town could have been mistaken for the inauguration of Carnival season, or even a Turkish wedding celebration.

    But the procession, accompanied by music, singing and dancing, marked instead the opening of the city’s new synagogue.

    It was the first dedication of a synagogue since the Nazis destroyed the old synagogue 81 years ago on Kristallnacht, the November pogrom against Jews, Jewish institutions and Jewish-owned businesses known as the Night of Broken Glass.

    The celebration came just one day after the mournful commemorations of the many victims of those Nazi-organized pogroms, which destroyed over 1000 homes, businesses, and places of worship across Germany and Austria on November 9, 1938. But the celebrations were not only notable for this.

    The festive dedication of the new synagogue was a proud, and pointed, counter-punch to the aggressive nationalism stalking Germany today.

    Fresh in the minds of both the Jewish community and the general public is the recent deadly attack on a synagogue in Halle on Yom Kippur, and the assassination of a pro-refugee Conservative party politician last summer, both by neo-Nazis.

    In his speech at the dedication ceremony of the new synagogue, the Baden-Württemberg state president, Winfried Kretschmann, warned of the further threat of right-wing extremism.

    HE WAS NOT EXAGGERATING AT ALL. Germany’s intelligence service recently reported that the country hosts 24,000 violent right-wing extremists, half of whom have a “very high affinity for firearms”, and the police has counted 600 verbal and physical attacks on refugees in just the first half of this year.

    The German interior minister Horst Seehofer, who came under criticism for his own anti-foreigner remarks last year, announced an “elevated” risk of right-wing terrorism, meaning an attack could come “at any moment”.

    It was further confirmation of his comments after the Halle shooting, when he stated that “the threat of anti-Semitism, right-wing extremism, and right-wing terrorism is very high.”

    But against the destructive past and the unknown future is the creative and rebellious acts of the Jewish community in the present, and the active resistance of so many non-Jews.

    The latter was perfectly demonstrated over that same Kristallnacht commemoration weekend, when 15,000 people confronted a neo-Nazi march in Bielefeld and formed a human chain around the synagogue there. At the Konstanz synagogue dedication, Kretschmann affirmed that the new synagogue is a “triumph” of Jewish life and of inter-religious coexistence over “hate and violence”.

    In fact, the rebuilding of Jewish communities is a rebellious, collective act of resistance in the face of far-right hostility.

    This was an ongoing theme of all the speeches in Konstanz that evening, which also criticized the rhetorical attacks of the far-right’s parliamentary representatives, the so-called “Alternative for Germany” – [AfD].

    Regularly trivializing the Nazi past, and maintaining many connections to neo-Nazi groups, the AfD was correctly described by one lawmaker of the Social Democratic party as the “political arm of right-wing terrorism”, whose verbal attacks embolden people towards physical assaults.

    Against this background of hostility, the vice president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Abraham Lehrer, forcefully declared from the bima of the new synagogue: “WE ARE NOT PACKING OUR SUITCASES.”

    His message was that there could be no surrender to the far right; that the Jewish community is instead building and strengthening its ties to Germany, despite the surrounding aggression.

    In fact, there are many similar stories of Jewish self-assertion in Germany.

    Alongside a seemingly endless string of verbal and physical assaults in the capital, one congregation in the Berlin district of Kreuzberg has created a vibrant community. They have knitted together German Jews with Israeli, American, Australian, and Russian Jewish immigrants.

    Their efforts have gained support from a lawmaker from the leftist local coalition government in Berlin, the Palestinian-born Raed Saleh, who is leading the initiative to rebuild the Fraenkelufer Synagogue which was destroyed on Kristallnacht.

    In Regensburg, the community rebuilt its synagogue this year, also destroyed in 1938.

    Yet while many Jews are indeed planting roots in Germany, THERE CANNOT BE COMPLETE CONFIDENCE THAT HISTORY WOULD NOT REPEAT ITSELF.

    So, just as British Jews are applying for EU passports, fearful of the repercussions of post-Brexit chaos, nationalist scapegoating and/or a Corbyn-led government, it is an open secret that German Jews are considering an escape route as well, just in case.

    After the shooting, the head of the Jewish community in Halle, Max Privorozki, said in an interview that he has been considering emigration for years.

    Members of the Jewish community in Düsseldorf, whose synagogue was targeted by incendiary devices in 2000, speak openly about emigration. The community’s chairman, Oded Horowitz, told the West German public broadcaster WDR earlier this month that community members are discussing if the time had come to leave.

    He himself thought that the signs of catastrophe were already imminent, and would be affirmed if the far right consolidated its vote in the 2021 parliamentary elections:

    “IF WE WANT TO ACT RESPONSIBLY AS JEWISH COMMUNITY LEADERS, WE SHOULD URGENTLY URGE OUR MEMBERS TO LEAVE GERMANY WHILE THEY STILL CAN.”

    AT A TIME WHEN EVERY FOURTH GERMAN SAYS THEY COULD IMAGINE SOMETHING LIKE THE HOLOCAUST REPEATING ITSELF ……..

    THERE SIMPLY IS NO ABSOLUTE CONFIDENCE WITHIN THE JEWISH COMMUNITY THAT GERMAN SOCIETY WILL DO ENOUGH TO STOP THE SLIDE INTO BARBARISM, AGAIN.

    Therefore, the best that real people can do, when they refuse to be ruled only by fear or only by a tragic notion of lone heroism, is to prepare for both possibilities: LIFE IN GERMANY, OR LIFE ABROAD.

    German Jews are building here and being as steadfast as they can, despite the state of siege. THEY ARE ALSO CONSIDERING THE DIFFICULT QUESTION OF EXODUS.

    But with Jewish communities feeling vulnerable from the U.S.A. to the UK to France, it is not clear in anyone’s minds where they might go.

    In the meantime, every festive public celebration by Germany’s diverse Jewish communities – from Konstanz to Regensburg to Berlin – are determined and defiant acts, undertaken with the full force of German history at their back, and with a future ahead that is uncertain in the extreme.

    The hope is that such acts of community-building, in concert with civil society and political allies, will also shape Germany’s future, and be part of the efforts to block it from repeating its past.

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