‘Nobody’s Free Until Everybody’s Free’: On Extending the Holocaust Day of Remembrance

Migrants from Central America heading in a caravan to the US. (Photo: via MEMO)

By Benay Blend

In a speech entitled “Nobody’s Free Until Everybody’s Free” (1971), Fannie Lou Hamer told the National Women’s Political Caucus that black and white women had to work together in order to achieve freedom for all. She also talked about issues that are still relevant today, including malnutrition in Mississippi and the drug pandemic consuming the nation’s youth.

“Now, we’ve got to have some changes in this country,” she told the group. “And not only changes for the black man, and only changes for the black woman, but the changes we have to have in this country are going to be for the liberation of all people–because nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”

“This is something that should have been done for a long time,” she explained, “because a white mother is no different from a black mother.” By way of clarification, she added that “the only thing is they haven’t had as many problems.”

On Holocaust Remembrance Day 2021, Hamer’s words are still important because they speak of the need to free all people who are still in bondage—in prisons; under the heel of Occupation; and in all other circumstances where people do not have the freedom to live a full and satisfying life.

On January 27, community organizer Selinda Guerrero posted her own thoughts about the Day. “I think about some of the powerful messages we learned about the dangers of political rhetoric,” dangers that might come from latter-day fascists who are a world-wide threat today.

But Guerrero also spoke of “folks who are bystanders during situations of injustice,” Germans who turned away as the Nazis rose to power, but also those who continue to turn a blind eye to injustices going on around them in more recent days.

“As we commit to this Remembrance Day,” concludes Guerrero, “we should also remember this is not just reflective of situations of the past but situations many still are experiencing today.” Accordingly, she “think[s] about Africom, the impact on our African relatives and the dangers of the US military.”

It is fitting to extend Holocaust Day in order to remember members of the Pan-African community who also died during the Holocaust in Germany. As NewsOne staff observes, there was no organized program for the murder of Blacks as there was for other groups, but an unknown number of Black people in Germany and German-occupied territories were subjected to sterilization, incarceration, and as well as death.

Moreover, NewsOne staff continues, Black prisoners of war faced illegal internment at the hands of German Nazis, who ignored the rules of war when it came to Black wounded and captured soldiers. For example, Black soldiers in the American, French and British armies died in concentration camps or as a result of being worked to death on construction projects related to the war. Others were killed immediately by the SS or Gestapo thus bypassing incarceration altogether.

According to Guerrero, atrocities committed during the Holocaust continue on today. A case in point that she brings up is United States Africa Command (Africom), established ostensibly to lead the fight against terrorism on the African continent, but, as Tunde Osazua explains, such operations have actually led to the rise of terrorist activity instead.

This process, Osazua claims, encourages “African countries to rely on the US military to support a fight against growing terrorist threats.” In the end, he concludes, “the US creates a ‘desire’ for AFRICOM by African compradors.”

It is fitting that Samidoun: Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network joined other organizations to participate in the Black Alliance for Peace (BAP)’s International Day of Action on Africom. A tool of US military and political domination, Africom seeks to ensure that the continent is under American control in much the same way that US aid enables Israel to maintain the Occupation of Palestine.

On the US border, too, misery continues. Similar to the way that Jewish people, often unsuccessfully, sought refuge in other countries before and during the Second World War, people from countries like Honduras and Guatemala are seeking asylum in the United States. Ironically, it has been America’s foreign policy that has caused instability and violence in the very countries whose citizens are now fleeing here for their very lives.

Finally, it is important not just to widen the scope of Holocaust Remembrance Day to include all those who have been victims of state violence. It is also vital to recognize all of the ironies associated with mourning one group of people while using their memory to commit atrocities against another.

For example, Antifa protestors recognized Holocaust Remembrance Day 2021 by setting up a candlelight vigil in front of an ICE facility in Portland, Oregon. Federal Protective Service officers used pepper balls against the activists, and at least one person was arrested and charged with “attempted assault on a public safety officer, disorderly conduct and riot.” A broad movement that is often misunderstood, Antifa stands for a coalition of groups and individuals who oppose fascism and other elements of the far-right.

In Europe, the European Union partnered this year with B’nai B’rith, an organization that Ali Abunimah condemns for “applaud[ing] Israeli war crimes, including the shooting of unarmed civilians in the Gaza Strip.”

Other participants include Katharina von Schnurbein, EU anti-Semitism chief who explained that the Holocaust “was caused by bystanders who were silent and kept silent in the face of injustice.”

It is with some irony, concludes Abunimah, that “not only are these officials willing to keep silent, they are also willing to lend their prestige to an organization that cheers for injustice while smearing and dehumanizing victims and truth-tellers.”

“There is an indelible link between the Holocaust and the current situation of the Palestinian people,” Yvonne Ridley writes, “to deny this simple fact exposes a deep-seated flaw in Zionist ideology.” She continues that she is “not trying to minimise Jewish suffering or draw parallels between the Nazi genocide of European Jews and what has happened to the Palestinians since 1948; it is simply undeniable that the Nakba is part of Israel’s history.”

“We cannot cherry-pick injustice to suit our own narratives,” Ridley notes. “The Holocaust happened and we must never forget it, but so did the Nakba, and we must never forget that either.” If Holocaust Remembrance Day means that lessons learned from history should not be repeated again, never again means never again for all people, with no ignoring of one group’s suffering in favor of privileging another.

January 27th also marks the 11th anniversary of the passing of Howard Zinn. As a people’s historian, Zinn reminded us not to balk at making visible the experiences of the invisible, no matter the consequences to the writer. In his own life, he often paid the price of pushing against the grain, but he never stopped fighting for social justice.

Zinn believed that it was impossible to remain neutral on a moving train, meaning that it is unacceptable to remain silent in the face of injustice. That means standing in solidarity with liberation struggles around the world, no matter what the personal cost might be.

“You, me, we have a responsibility to not just acknowledge today,” explains Selinda Guerrero, “but to step into action for all the situations still existent in this narrative of fascism, and imperialist hate. Today, commit to organizing and lifting those most impacted to resist and be in solidarity with all who are still living genocidal and oppressive systems!”

– Benay Blend earned her doctorate in American Studies from the University of New Mexico. Her scholarly works include Douglas Vakoch and Sam Mickey, Eds. (2017), “’Neither Homeland Nor Exile are Words’: ‘Situated Knowledge’ in the Works of Palestinian and Native American Writers”. She contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.

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