A story in today’s Sydney Morning Herald made me really, really stroppy. A private school in the Northern Territory of Australia encouraged pupils to dress up as literary characters in celebration of Book Week. One pupil chose to dress up as Adolf Hitler. It so happened that a group of exchange students from a Jewish school in Melbourne were present and found this representation of the man who attempted to annihilate their race in Europe confronting.
Now everyone is falling over themselves apologising and counselling one another and promising it will never happen again.
So why am I stroppy?
First, the presence or otherwise of Jewish children should have no bearing on the case. Hitler was an enemy of mankind and victimised Slavs, Gypsies, homosexuals, the handicapped, Catholic priests… please add to this list as you see fit.
Second, airbrushing events and individuals out of our cultural landscape, and therefore out of the knowledge that we pass down to our children, is a pretty good way of ensuring that the mistakes of the past are repeated in the future.
And third, dressing up as someone does not have to imply endorsement of their character, their politics or their actions. Prince Harry was castigated a few years ago – unfairly to my mind – for going to a fancy dress party as Hitler. Nobody has suggested that he did so because he wanted a revival of Nazism.
If one goes along with the mock-shock-horror and handwringing that followed an innocent child’s efforts to get into the spirit of Book Week, one should ask oneself which other historical figures should be off-limits. Genghis Khan? Henry VIII?
What about some biblical figures who had a pretty shady reputation when it came to human rights? Moses and Joshua come to mind. How would a descendant of the Canaanites feel if they saw someone dressed as one of those two genocidal criminals? And what about some other unsavoury characters who are still alive and at large?
PS If you think this post is gross, I would point out that it is my 144th.