My paternal grandfather was born Fritz Rudolph Marx. He was German, of Jewish ancestry. Fortunate enough to be born into privileged circumstances, he and his immediate family left Germany before the country was fully entrenched in the ugly grip of fascism. He was lucky that his uncle, already settled in the UK, had had the prescience to tell my great-grandfather to get his family out while he could.
When the Second World War broke out, my grandfather fought with the British army against the Nazis. He faced dangerous situations and was awarded the Military Cross for valour. After the war ended, he became a naturalised British citizen and changed his name to Frank Ralph. He kept the name Marx.
All his friends knew him as Ralph and even with family he never spoke about the things he had seen and experienced. He never spoke German with his children. When I was about nine years old, I found some pictures in an old desk in his study which must have been taken when he was involved in the liberation of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. I will never forget those pictures, or the fact that my grandfather must have been thinking as he took them of his own family members who were not able to leave Germany as he had done.
Living in Britain, my grandfather adopted a conservative stance towards issues of national policy, particularly economic ones. Though he died when I was 17 and we never discussed politics or identity, I think more and more of him as I get older.
I’m sure there are many things we would have disagreed about but he was a deeply principled man, who was never afraid to put himself on the line for what he believed to be right. Probably the most important thing he ever taught me is that you should always stand up to bullies.
Now I look at the world we’re living in and I vacillate between anger and despair at the wave of popular support for demagogues, riding on ugly prejudice and ignorance, and total humility in the face of people risking their comfort and safety to resist in the ways they can.
I know the world has been witness to genocides for almost as long as human civilisation as we know it has existed. The horrors of the Holocaust should not eclipse what happened in Rwanda, Cambodia, Bosnia, or what is happening today in the Central African Republic, Myanmar and I imagine many other places that are not even on my radar. The genocide of Jews in Germany and throughout Europe is not a greater horror than the genocide of any of these peoples, but it does have particular resonance for me.
I feel these days as though everywhere I look the bullies are winning – whether it’s on a huge scale in Syria, Yemen, Occupied Palestine, where the injustice is so brutally obvious as to take the breath away, whether it’s tacitly acknowledged but not talked about, as in countries not facing outright war but existing in a vacuum of minimal social and political freedoms and human rights, or whether it’s in a country like Britain, which I believe has long basked in pride at having been on “the right side of history” in 1939-1945 but which is clearly in no way resistant to the current sweeping wave of right-wing nationalism that demonises minorities and lives off stereotypes and fear.
Clearly what is happening in the US at the moment throws everything into sharp relief, and I stand on the brink of being completely overwhelmed by what a Trump presidency means for the world as a whole – on everything ranging from climate change, to reproductive rights, to press freedom, to large-scale corruption and the threat of nuclear war.
But today, Holocaust Memorial Day, I am entirely consumed by revulsion at what Trump and his supporters are trying to do with their so-called Muslim registry. I am raging internally at their blatant pushing of a white supremacist agenda, their demonization of refugees, immigrants, citizens of colour, Black Lives Matter supporters, members of the LGBTQ community and anyone who does not fit their narrow, spineless, small-minded definition of being worthy to be accorded full human rights, compassion, security and support.
And I am disgusted beyond belief to see the British Prime Minister simpering and fawning as she tries to secure a trade deal with Trump to limit the disastrous fallout from Brexit by waxing lyrical over the fucking “Special Relationship”. Next thing you know she’ll be weaving friendship bracelets or engraving T loves D 4 eva into Westminster Abbey.
I don’t know what to do with all this anger but I have to do something.
I can’t look at this day and what it symbolises for me on a personal level without wanting to do more than show solidarity with people forced to live in fear, everyone being targeted directly or indirectly by an orange lunatic with delusions of grandeur.