Shrewsbury author's book explores lessons of the Holocaust
The horrors of the Holocaust continue to resonate today, but in his debut book with a mainstream publisher, Shrewsbury's Simon Bell explores aspects that remain so uncomfortable that in some quarters there is a reluctance to address them.
The culpability of Nazi Germany in those crimes is a given, and in the occupied countries there was heroism, resistance, and defiance.
But that was not the whole story and, in 'Remembering The Holocaust And The Impact On Societies Today', Simon tells how there were levels of collaboration and collusion which, he argues, should be faced up to for the sake of honest history.
He examines in turn the roles and responses of various countries in those dark days.
Simon, who is a retired mental health nurse, said: "The impetus for the book was legislation imposed in Poland in 2018 that effectively criminalised any suggestion of Polish involvement in crimes of the Holocaust during the period when Poland was occupied and annexed by Nazi Germany.
"That caused me to explore whether they were justified in criminalising any criticism of Poland during the war and whether there was any collaboration by Poland and the Poles – and there was.
"All countries seek to view their past favourably rather than critically. There is a desire to be seen as noble resisters and repressed occupied states, as they indeed were, but there was also collaboration and participation.
"I researched to see whether the Holocaust law was justified, or if it effectively sought to deny some elements of accepted historical truth. That led me to research other nations that had been occupied and also whether unoccupied nations facilitated or enabled the Nazi regime."
His main conclusion, he says, is that legislating against critical history is less effective than improving honest education and open discussion.
He added: "My book is not a criticism of nations or their citizens today. It seeks to accept the wrongs of the past and the need for that wrongdoing – when it has clearly occurred – to be owned by modern societies as part of the truth of their history. History should be studied and taught with honesty, not diluted to sanitise its reality."
His book was completed before the Russian invasion of Ukraine but Simon said: "History can serve as a warning if we heed its lessons. Without being too prescient, the epilogue includes an observation of Putin and Russia's desire for greater political, economic and military influence."
His interest in the subject has various roots.
"At the age of 12, in 1973, I was alerted to the injustices faced by native Americans when they were highlighted during the siege at Wounded Knee in South Dakota. That led me, as a teenager, to study the genocide of native Americans by people of European heritage.
"Dehumanising language was ever present during those cruel times and a whole race of people was nearly exterminated because they were seen as less worthy of life. Similar destruction of communities occurred throughout lands colonised by Europeans. I have therefore been aware of man's propensity to cruelty for over 50 years.
"When I first started working in mental health care in the early 1980s, at the old Shelton Hospital, it was during the final years of 'asylum' care. Many of the patients were classed as long stay, and some had been in hospital for decades.
"Included within that group were former military personnel from the Second World War, Eastern Europeans who had experienced the war as civilians, and some Holocaust survivors.
"There was a lack of curiosity about the impact of life events on their mental health. In the decades since, mental health care has become much more trauma-aware, and of the relevance of how life experiences can greatly impact upon care planning and delivery."
After retiring in 2016 Simon went on to do a Masters degree in Second World War studies.
"During my MA studies, I found research from Israel that looked at a group of long stay patients who had survived the Holocaust and had a primary diagnosis of schizophrenia. Those patients were reassessed and not one of them had schizophrenia, but they all had PTSD.
"That has made me question how much better hospital care could have been 40 years ago, if only psychiatry had been more curious and inquisitive at that time."
Simon, who was a nurse for 37 years including 35 in mental health care, went back on the nursing register with the advent of the pandemic, and is now a Covid vaccinator.
'Remembering The Holocaust And The Impact On Societies Today' is published by Pen & Sword and costs £20.