History teaches us that we cannot stay silent in the face of what is happening to China’s Uighur community

The House, 20 July 2020

Below is an article published by The House, Photo PA

Karen Pollock Holocaust Educational Trust – 75 years after the Holocaust, we cannot say we did not know about the appalling treatment of the Uighurs

When we take young students, teachers and politicians to visit Auschwitz, it is always the mountain of hair that hits people.

Tonnes of human hair shaved from the heads of some of the 1.1 million Jewish people murdered in the death camp, to be shipped back to Germany and turned into thread, rope or even socks for submarine crews, is piled from floor to ceiling.

The notion that this hair was shaved off human beings, removing them of their identity and their dignity, is sickening.

The Holocaust is a unique episode in our history, but it is impossible to see the plight of the Uighurs without hearing echoes of the past.

We’ve seen footage of hundreds of blindfolded prisoners forced onto trains and heard reports of over a million people – the largest incarceration of a minority group since the end of the Second World War – detained in ‘re-education’ camps.

We’ve learnt about 13 tonnes of human hair forcibly shaved from Uighur women in China and we’ve seen horrifying official documents that show a policy of mass sterilisation. And we’ve heard from the brave witnesses themselves – exiled members of China’s Uighur minority – who have given evidence of genocide and crimes against humanity to the International Criminal Court, yet their experiences are denied.

In a global, interconnected world where information is at our fingertips and social media enables the spread of information faster than ever before, we cannot say we do not know. 75 years after the Holocaust, we are witnessing the appalling treatment of the Uighur community in Xinjiang.

Watching the chilling denial from the Chinese Ambassador on Andrew Marr on Sunday forces us to continue to demand the truth. Hearing David Aaronovitch’s Briefing Room’s disturbing accounts of what is going on and seeing the courageous Maajid Nawaaz on hunger strike to raise awareness of the horrors being inflicted on the Uighurs, reminds us that we all have a duty – to speak out, to shine a spotlight on abuses of human rights, to be a voice for the those who need us the most.

After the Second World War, we said ‘Never Again’. Never again would people be singled out and persecuted for being different. Never again would we ignore the suffering of our neighbours.

We have spent the last 75 years examining how and why the Holocaust happened and whether there could have been a different outcome. We have considered our own roles and what we might have done in these circumstances – would we have taken risks, helped our fellow human beings or kept our heads down and turned a blind eye?

We have asked what Governments could and should have done differently, and how their actions might have led to a radically different history. It is crucial that we continue to explore and learn from history. More pressing, is what we can do today.

We cannot remain silent. We cannot deny what we see before our very eyes. Indifference is not an option.