Press Column Saturday 03 February 2001

Holocaust day is a reminder to us all of the dangers anti-semitism. Even religious affairs correspondents are not immune, though I found that I could cure myself quite easily merely by giving up the Jewish Chronicle. A quick glance back this week shows why this was a sensible idea: the Jewish community of Turkey has issued a statement (what, all of them?) objecting to the inclusion of the Armenians among the victims of twentieth century genocides. Their statement said "We stress that the genocide of six million Jews in the Holocaust in the Second World War should not be compared to any other event and should not be overshadowed by so-called genocide claims." What makes this so monumentally depressing and dispiriting a testimony to the inexhaustible baseness of the human spirit is the knowledge that they had good reasons for doing it. The Turks would have bullied them horribly if they didn’t. They were subjected to all the usual pressures that a brought to bear on us to connive at injustice, and they connived. Hitler famously asked "Who now remembers the Armenians?" and one answer is that the Jews of Turkey won’t.

It all goes to show the futility of supposing that remembering the Holocaust will make us nicer or better people. The Daily Telegraph did very well to find a ninety-year-old survivor of the 1915 Armenian massacres in Yerevan; but of course this too was partly to score a modern political point, this time off Shirley Williams. In any case, the Jewish holocaust is just too big and too terrible an event to fit into the ordinary round of commemorations, and even if it weren’t, having one day devoted to the purpose is absurd. The great observances of all religions are preceded by weeks or months of steady spiritual preparation. Jonathan Romain was wise to compare the idea of a Holocaust Day with "Diana Day", and right, too to worry where it will be in five years’ time. The fact that the Queen did not travel down from Sandringham for the ceremony sets a bad precedent. Her excuse that the Christmas holidays traditionally go on for her until February 6th, didn’t really improve matters. But the Telegraph, again, carried an illuminating report into the relationship between royalty and atrocity. This was an obituary of Sir Dudley Forwood, Bt, who had been the sole Equerry to Edward VIII after his abdication.

"I never tried to understand the Duke or the other members of the Royal Family," he said. "I doubt their character can be penetrated. My pleasure came form ser4ving them, from being near them — near the throne." And it was the same lust to be near the throne that animated Edward, and Wallis too, after the abdication. Forwood accompanied both of them on their trip around Nazi Germany. "The Duke, the Duchess and I had no idea that the Germans were or would be committing mass murder on the Jews [but] we were none of us averse to Hitler politically. We felt that the Nazi regime was a more appropriate government than the Weimar republic, wich had been extremely socialist."

None the less — and this is the saddest and most banal part of the whole story — when the Duke visited Germany, where he was received with the honours due to a king, it was not to express his undoubted support for the Hitler regime. "We went because he wanted his beloved wife to experience a State visit. He wanted to prove to her that he had lost nothing by abdicating. And the only way such a State visit was possible was to make the arrangements with Hitler." I think, on balance, the Queen should have broken her holiday, if only to show herself more selfless than her uncle.

A more difficult moral dilemma made Monday’s Times, where the indefatigable Caroline Cox was interviewed very sympathetically by Ann Treneman. The point at issue was her behaviour in the Sudan, where she goes to buy slaves as other women might go to the Paris fashion week. As a former Conservative whip, and free market ideologue in the Centre for Policy Studies, she might have concluded, as her opponents on this mater do, that if you want to stamp out the slave trade, you shouldn’t buy slaves. After all, we don’t try to discourage drug dealers buy buying their crops and burning them (unless they’re tobacco farmers). But she thinks the misery of slavery needs immediate amelioration now. And so she flies in and buys them. She didn’t exactly convert Ann Treneman to her point of view, but she fought at least a draw. The point about the Baroness is that she does love a good fight, and there is something exhilarating to all the onlookers in that.

Talking of fights, there was a most unseemly scene at Lambeth Palace on Tuesday, when Steve Bates, of the Guardian lost his temper completely. Arun Kutaria, a nice man who was very successful at the Church Commissioners, where he dealt with few excitements and no journalists ravening for stories, looks rather out of his depth at Lambeth Palace. He arranged a briefing before the Archbishops’ visit to Nigeria which was by all accounts so dull that it might as well have been on the record. This was an error. The whole point of holding briefings off the record is to answer truthfully and undiplomatically those questions which are quite properly evaded by diplomatic waffle in public. It is not to respond to all questions of substance with variations on the phrase "I couldn’t possibly say that". Steve is an extremely good journalist who likes, in an old-fashioned way, to get stories into the newspaper; and after forty five minutes of this he rose to his feet shouting "You are so inept and incompetent that you can’t even organise a press conference" and stomped right out of the room. Arun says only that he has nothing to say on the matter except to Steve Bates himself. But at least he has to consolation of knowing that something so memorable was said at a Lambeth press conference that three people rang me within two hours to tell me all about it.

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