It is Better to Die With Honour Than To Die Like Sheep

It is Better to Die With Honour Than To Die Like Sheep
Image: Richard Oelze, Expectation, 1935-1936, oil on canvas.

Warsaw 1943 - London 2022

In 1943 word came down the line in the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw that people were being taken off to be gassed at Auschwitz. The dead weight of denial kept reality at bay. “Surely they will not have us die”. “Surely we are of some use”. “Evil of this depth cannot happen”. The deniers were wrong. The Nazis wanted them dead but they told whatever lies were needed to keep everyone passive. Jewish police were co-opted to keep everyone in line.

When the ghetto numbers had fallen from around 300,000 to 60,000 the flip happened. They are going to kill us all. It was too late to live but not too late to resist. To die with honour rather than die like sheep. The Jews fought like hell by all accounts. Much longer than expected. But in the end, apart from a few individuals hiding underground, they were all dead.

The rumours had begun coming down the line in 1933. Some say from 1923 (Hitler’s intention was clear enough in Mein Kampf). They grew during the 1930s. They screamed in 1939. Then it was too late.

This story used to be the greatest moral warning of European Culture. Never again. Never again. Now those who speak about our responsibilities are silenced. We cannot be allowed to hear about us allowing such evil to happen again.

The rumours about the final mass murder project started coming down the line in the 1980s (though it was clear enough from the 1960s). They have grown every year since 1990. As has the denial. “Surely they will not have us die” “Surely we are of some use”. “Evil of this depth cannot happen”

In 2022 the rumours have become a scream. And now it is too late.

Sir David King recently made clear the Arctic ice melt is irreversible and thus the explosion of methane release from the permafrost.

It is not a coincidence that both myself and Andreas Malm, author of “How to blow up a pipeline”, despite our differences, have independently come to dwell on the Warsaw episode as the clearest historical example of what we are heading into, and of what it means to resist what is coming.

This week, as the city where I live, London, passed 40C, the diabolical denial approaches its peak. Everywhere there is avoidance. Deafening, stifling silence. Such is the nature of being “only human”.

To survive we have to become superhuman. We have to get ahead of the curve. We have to decide it is better to die with honour rather than die like sheep. Regardless of whether or not we survive.

Most people will find this comparison ridiculous, even outrageous. “Look around us, things are fine”. But the similarities between those times and these are not lost on members of the Jewish community.

Over the past year, I became friends with a prominent Jewish businessman. He fully supports Just Stop Oil. He explained why. “What you have to understand, Roger, is that my family escaped Russia at the beginning of the Twentieth century. We went to Germany – it seemed like the promised land.” They worked hard and by 1934 owned department stores. Then one night the Nazis smashed all windows of their stores, and they had to escape Germany as well. He told me, “my family knows what it is like to lose everything in two weeks”.

To contact civil resistance groups around the world:

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