Notes on the Lodz Ghetto Exhibition, UN Headquarters

Child workers – Lodz Ghetto, 1940s

There were several photos of Jewish and Roma children put to work by the Nazi authorities. Children pressing sheets of metal and concentrating while they sorted slivers of silicate. These children worked to earn a daily food allowance. As the war advanced the work continued but the daily allowance dropped. Eventually the German war machine was exhausted and before it was too late the ghetto was emptied and those still alive transported to the Chelmo Extermination Camp. One photograph shows a scene by a railway line; the families have arrived at their final destination and are being forcibly separated into men, women and children.

Orphans, Lodz Ghetto
Notes to a photograph of orphans in Lodz Ghetto

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) was the world’s response the holocaust. There’s a list of the first 5 Articles coming up. I’m not sure I’ve read them properly before, but as a lucky member of a ruling tribe I haven’t needed to shelter under them. If I was jewish, or black, I would have looked at those images of Lodz with fear as well as revulsion. My folk memory would tell me that the world could be turned upside down unnervingly quickly, and doomed children put to work to earn bread while they waited to die.

The mantra of human rights can feel overplayed in a free and prosperous society like the UK, where minorities are well protected and the principle of human rights has been undermined by the relentlessness interventions of the European Court of Human Rights, an elite body which few understand and which enjoys autonomy without accountability.

The UN’s complex decision-making structure can leave it looking sidelined (Iraq) and even indifferent (Rwanda); the victorious WWII allies can still use their veto to stop it from doing the right thing (Syria). The UN oversees a rules based international system which is invisible to the majority of people, in Britain and elsewhere, even though it is fundamental to the way we live now. I think we should all know these rules better, and understand how the UN works, and how it needs to change to remain at the centre of world affairs. The post WWII settlement is shifting, and the coming decades will see new tensions between the world’s 7bn people. We can choose to see the future as promising, or threatening. Both outcomes are possible.

  • Article 1: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
  • Article 2: Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.
  • Article 3: Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
  • Article 4: No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.
  • Article 5: No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

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