Today is Holocaust Memorial Day.
It is a day to remember the horrors of where a twisted and brutal ideology can lead and it’s important because, as time goes on, fewer people will have had first-hand knowledge of what actually happened.
When I was still in my teens, I met someone who had been one of the first soldiers to enter the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Northern Germany in the last months of the Second World War. Benny had been part of the British 11th Armoured Division that had liberated the camp in April 1945 and he told this dumbstruck boy how he’d used a bulldozer to push the dead, emaciated and diseased bodies into mass graves.
I say this because Benny had no reason to lie to me, no reason to exaggerate or make a political point – it was the truth and he rightly felt that we should never forget what the Nazis had done and why they had to be stopped.
So when I see anarchists or far-right groups using the swastika as some kind political statement and acting like their fascist heroes, I remember what Benny told me, just as I do when comments are made on social media likening fox hunters and the Countryside Alliance to the Nazi Party. The perfect combination of idiocy and ignorance, but there is something of an irony in this claim, given the history of the hunt saboteurs.
The name Dave McCalden may not mean very much to today’s sabs, but back in the early 1970s he was a leading light in the anti-hunting movement. McCalden sat on the Hunt Saboteurs Association committee and edited HOWL, the official magazine of the HSA. In the very first issue, a centre page was almost entirely dedicated to attacking Jewish form of slaughter known as shechitah, in which the animal is not stunned before being killed by a cut to the throat. As a vegetarian for over 40 years, I don’t condemn people who eat meat, but I do not accept any argument, religious or otherwise, for not properly pre-stunning animals destined for slaughter – a position held by the British Veterinary Association and the RSPCA. But the point here is that kosher slaughter is hardly an issue central to the pro/anti hunting debate, so why it was included in an anti-hunting newsletter is odd to say the least, unless of course it suited the ideology of the editor.
McCalden was a member of the National Front and helped form their policy on hunting, which of course was to oppose it. The news of the stance was happily reported in HOWL.
It was no secret in hunt saboteur circles at the time that McCalden had links to the National Front and other far-right groups, including the Ku Klux Klan. These were the days when the NF and the Anti-Nazi League often clashed and it was inevitable that McCalden’s involvement in the anti-hunting movement would come to a head, as it did at an HSA annual general meeting in Newcastle, when a motion for his expulsion had been tabled. The arguments from both sides became very bitter, with the Holocaust frequently being quoted. I can remember vividly the reaction when a prominent animal rightist said, “Well, if they were meat eating Jews, so what?”. It must be said that the majority of those present did not hold this view and McCalden was expelled from the HSA, though other prominent saboteurs made it clear they regretted the move, one saying in an outburst, “Why are we doing this? We’re all anti-hunting, aren’t we?”
That comment sums up the gullibility, naivety and obsessive nature of those who see everything – human abuse, animal abuse, human welfare or animal welfare – through the narrow prism of hunting.
Dave McCalden continued to argue his case both in this country and later in the USA, becoming a vocal supporter of Holocaust denial and founder of the Institute for Historical Review. He published books and newsletters on the ‘facts’ as he saw them and even produced films that supposedly ‘proved’ the Nazi concentration camps did not exist. He died in 1990.
The next time a saboteur tries to denigrate those who hunt by comparing them to ‘Nazis’, ‘ISIS’ or any other manifestation of human wickedness and brutality, it might be worth reminding them that some of the original members of their organisation were not as compassionate as they might think.
Today should also remind us where blindly following any bigoted ideology might lead.