|"Dr. Martin Stern believes there is hope humanity can turn away from genocide." (Neville Collins/Redditch Standard)|
By Ian Dipple
Redditch Standard, January 28, 2013
"As a five-year-old child, imprisoned in the Nazi prison camp of Westerbork in the Netherlands, Martin Stern watched thousands of people packed like cattle onto trains and rushed to their deaths at Auschwitz or other extermination camps. One thing always bothered him. 'There were a few soldiers and okay they were wearing military uniforms and carrying pistols but I could see their faces and their faces looked ordinary and stupid and ignorant as I was at the age of five, it was a puzzle to me how one set of normal looking people could do that, packing them in like sardines in goods trucks and cattle trucks, to another set of people who I knew were normal.' It is a question that for the last eight years since he retired as an immunologist working in hospitals in Leicester, that has spurred Dr. Stern to talk about his own Holocaust survival story and to look deeper at the reasons why humanity feels the need to inflict such brutality on itself. He vividly recalls the moment he was arrested at his school in Amsterdam because his father was a Jew. 'The door opened at the back of the little hall and two young men walked in. One of them asked is Martin Stern here. And the teacher immediately shot back "No he hasn't come in today" and there I was in the middle of the row with my classmates. I did not understand what was going on and I put my hand up and said "But I am here" and as these two young men were leading me out of that little hall I looked back and I saw her and I will never forget the ashen face of the teacher.' ... Despite having suffered at the hands of the Nazis, Dr. Stern dismisses the theory which became fashionable in the 1950s and 1960s that genocide was something only Germans were capable of or that genocide is the work of a few evil people such as Hitler and Stalin. 'That's absolutely not true. Go out into the street and look around and you will see people capable of it,' he added.
'A friend of mine who survived the genocidal events In the former Yugoslavia says to his audiences you want to know what a perpetrator looks like, go to the bathroom, look in the mirror.' So if there is no 'genocidal gene' and people are not 'born evil' how is it perfectly normal people go on to commit such atrocities? 'The answer I believe to be true is all of us by virtue of being normal have mechanisms which are necessary for every day life but which can go wrong and they go wrong in groups,' Dr. Stern explains. 'It's a bit like the organs of the body. You have a pancreas, a pituitary gland, a thyroid and without those you would be dead and if they malfunction you are very ill and they can malfunction in groups and it is the same with psychological mechanisms. ... He added: 'Fanaticism is something we deal with every day, you read the newspapers, it's everywhere. I see some of the people who whip ordinary innocent folk up towards that state of fanaticism and what they try to do is make you angry. 'X group has done that to Y group and they tell you a very one sided story and the aim is to get you angry and once you are angry you are not thinking anymore. It's a trick extremists use to get it so deeply embedded.' Exactly how to stop genocide is a question which no doubt will take many years to resolve. But Dr. Stern is clear not all is lost. 'I spent most of my life sweeping it under the carpet, most Holocaust survivors have done that. The reason I give the talks is it is not about the past, it is about the present and about the future and as for what we should do about it, we need to know history but we need to go beyond that, there is more,' he said. 'It's not hopeless. The human race gave up cannibalism, why can't we give up genocide? I think we can.'"