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27 January 2021updated 09 Sep 2021 11:55am

Letter of the week: Up to old tricks

A selection of the best letters received from our readers this week. Email letters@newstatesman.co.uk to have your thoughts voiced in the New Statesman magazine. 

By New Statesman

Emma Mason highlights “[Trump’s] willingness to attempt to subvert a free and fair election” (Correspondence, 22 January). Disruption of American elections is not a new concept but is intertwined with the political packing of the Supreme Court with which Trump has been so successful. Voting rights have been a key tenet of Republican attack since John Roberts became chief justice in 2005. While the most famous anti-democratic action of the court is arguably the 2000 Bush vs Gore case, the conservative justices of the Roberts Court have pedigree in voter suppression efforts. Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett and Roberts himself all worked for the Bush legal team; justices Thomas and Scalia were in the majority that ruled in favour of Bush.

Thirteen years later, Shelby County vs Holder, decided by a majority including Scalia, Roberts and Thomas, effectively neutered congressional ability to regulate states with the 14th and 15th amendments. This resulted in disenfranchisement of mostly black voters via measures such as voter ID laws. These same justices overturned the Florida Supreme Court on its own election laws, handing the 2000 election to Bush. The court has produced anti-democratic Republican victories far beyond the presidency of Donald Trump.
J Carlton
Via email

 

How to remember

Richard J Evans’s distinction between memorials and museums is well drawn (“How should we remember the Holocaust?”, 22 January). I visited the Holocaust memorial in Berlin, and teenagers, who were on a well-intentioned school visit, were playing hide and seek around the memorial. I visited the Western Front and, at the Thiepval monument to the missing of the Somme, a teenager, on a similarly worthy visit, came dancing down the steps as if she were in a Busby Berkeley musical. Monuments just do not work. They quickly merge into the daily scene and, for young people who have no recollection of the events memorialised, they mean nothing.

Exhibitions do work. The Anne Frank house in Amsterdam sobers everybody who enters. Auschwitz and other concentration camps that have survived have similar effects. In Kraków the museum that has been set up in Schindler’s old factory tells, in quiet, relentless detail, the effect of the Nazis on the city and its Jewish citizens.

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A memorial in Victoria Gardens will achieve nothing and will despoil a precious green space. As Evans argues, what is needed is more publicity for existing exhibitions that quietly inform us about the horrors of the Holocaust.
Michael Bartholomew,
Birstwith, North Yorkshire

 

We should be very grateful for Richard J Evans’s timely, clear, judicious and sensitive review of the issues surrounding the proposed national Holocaust memorial and learning centre, especially as public memorials are becoming the subject of controversy and even violent conflict.

Among the multiplicity of “major research and learning institutions” he mentions devoted to Holocaust education in this country, may I add the Holocaust Educational Trust, which since 1988 has promoted Holocaust education, reaching several generations of schoolchildren through its outreach programme. An early achievement was to embed Holocaust education in the national curriculum.

The work of the trust is becoming more urgent by the day, not only because of the resurgence of anti-Semitism, but also because of the diminishing number of living witnesses able to deliver moving testimonies on visits to our schools and colleges.
Paul Thomson
Mobberley, Cheshire

 

I was disturbed to read about the proposal for a Holocaust memorial in Victoria Gardens. Some years ago I visited Berlin. Stepping into and walking through the Holocaust memorial was one of the most profoundly moving experiences I have ever had. Its dignity and simplicity gave room for deep reflection. I have not seen the plans for the London memorial but from the description in Richard J Evans’s essay, it sounded inappropriate and even bossy.
Julia Cadman
St Helens, Merseyside

 

Being British and Jewish by accident of birth and empire (English father, Polish Jewish mother, born in Cairo) and a retired member of the architectural profession, I found it interesting to read Richard J Evans’s essay.

Like many objectors to the Holocaust memorial and learning centre, I think the proposed building would be an ugly and unnecessary imposition on Victoria Gardens, its 22 bronze fins meaningless symbolism. If another Holocaust memorial is required, then this is the wrong building in the wrong location.

However, Evans’s dig at “Britain alone” is somewhat unfair. Invasion of Britain by Germany would, without doubt, have meant death for all of Europe’s Jews.

Perhaps the best way to remember the horror of the Holocaust would be to establish a “Jewish Lives Matter” movement to counter anti-Semitism around the world and especially in Israel, which, since inception, has endured war, terrorism, ostracism and vilification.

On a final note, if a new memorial building is to go ahead, might it possibly be designed by a Jewish architect?
Joseph Hayward
Stanmore, Greater London

 

Arguments about the location of a Holocaust memorial miss the point that it is education in schools on this subject that would be effective in exposing anti-Semitism. Monuments for remembering the Holocaust place those events comfortably in the past; honouring the lessons of those events lies in the present and the future.
Felicity McGowan
Cardigan, Ceredigion

 

Nasty business

Megan Nolan’s column on poor families hit a nerve (Lines of Dissent, 22 January). Chartwells, which was contracted by the government to provide food for children eligible for free school meals, actually described them as “hampers”. I would like to know what was in the hampers purchased by the Eton- and Oxbridge-educated ministers attending various leisure functions throughout the year. Surely not a tin of beans, a white loaf, eight cheese slices and two carrots. And valued at £30, when the items could have been purchased for less than a fiver. An absolute disgrace.
Terri Charman
Coulsdon, Surrey

 

Keir Charmer?

Philip Collins (The Public Square, 22 January), Stephen Bush and other commentators are puzzling over Labour’s future election chances. Isn’t the main problem its across-the-board lack of charisma? It’s not essential to be charismatic if the situation is unusual or desperate (see Joe Biden, Clement Attlee) but the Prime Minister’s gusto more than matches his Covid catastrophe. Labour’s front bench is sadly flat.
John Cliff
Via email

 

In a tangle

Like Andrew Richardson, I enjoyed Michael Prodger’s piece on the history of tapestry (Correspondence, 22 January). Would it be too picky to point out that the splendid Bayeux Tapestry is an embroidered panel, not a woven tapestry?
Judith Gubbay
Via email

 

Love of Iris

What a pleasure it was to read Peter Abbs’s poem (The NS Poem: “Iris Murdoch’s Love”, 22 January). The poem is beautiful, and so too was Iris Murdoch. Her tragic final years, ravaged by dementia, underline the randomness and injustice of life. Murdoch, though, remains in my heart. Peter Abbs taught at Sussex University, where I studied, and which further intensified my love for Murdoch’s novels and ideas.
Sebastian Monblat
Sutton, Greater London

 

Praise for Parker

Hunter Davies describes Scott Parker’s stylish and serious appearance (The Fan, 22 January), so let me add his manners: a Camberwell and Peckham lad, always modest, polite and considerate. I briefly taught maths and sport at Haberdashers’ Aske’s in New Cross. We initiated football there – to the delight of the boys, and the consternation of the rugger governors. I also managed a Blackheath District Schools team and sometimes an Inner London Schools team. Scott went off to Lilleshall. As the boys said – respect.
Nick Jeffrey
London SE6

 

Time for bye-byes

Since this pandemic began, I have not been sleeping well. But on the night of 20 January, and the night after, I slept like a baby. The only change was the departure of Trump. Chance, or cause and effect?
Leon Kreitzman
London SW2

 

Writing history

I was struck by the comparison of Joe Biden’s inauguration and that of John F Kennedy exactly 60 years ago. In 1961 Kennedy was the young president and Robert Frost, the old poet, spoke the lines. In 2021 Biden is the old president and Amanda Gorman the young, amazing poet. A new frontier?
Keith Bradbrook
Greenhithe, Kent

 

The happy prince

Philip Hoare’s review of Rupert Everett’s book To the End of the World: Travels with Oscar Wilde (The Critics, 22 January) reminded me that on 17 June 2018 Everett was a guest on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show. On being asked by Marr about directing himself in The Happy Prince, Everett replied, without a hint of irony: “What I loved as an actor was working with me as a director.”

I was so enthralled by this priceless homage to Wilde’s special brand of shameless narcissism that I checked it on iPlayer and added it to my file of favourite quotes.
Guy de la Bédoyère
Grantham, Lincolnshire

 

Women of letters

I hope we may look forward to the names of 16 (or more) European women of letters in your next edition (NS Word Games, 22 January).
David Lingard
Sheffield

 

Dear David

As one of your faithful readers, I hope you will add me to your David list (Correspondence, 22 January).
Davina Williams
Lewes, East Sussex

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This article appears in the 27 Jan 2021 issue of the New Statesman, The Lost