The government announcements that flash up on Twitter tell us that shopping for basic necessities such as food or medicine is one of only four legitimate reasons for leaving your home (although the regulations include 13 ‘reasonable excuses’). But what counts as a basic necessity? The police and local councils have announced that Easter eggs are ‘non-essential goods’. In Plymouth, the police tweeted that ‘going to the shops for beer and cigarettes is not essential’. In my local Boots, in north-east London, the self-service cosmetic racks are covered up as if they’re an offence to modesty, with a sign saying ‘sorry cannot sell as it is non-essential’. The pandemic has unleashed a rash of puritanical dictums on what we’re allowed to buy.
For the past few months, Margarete Kraus’s face has been looking out at passengers in the lifts at Russell Square tube station. Photographed in the 1960s, she is leaning from the window of her caravan, smiling. Her Auschwitz prisoner number is tattooed on her left forearm. Kraus, who came from Czechoslovakia, was one of the hundreds of thousands of Roma and Sinti people targeted by the Nazis for extermination in the 1940s. Her story is told, alongside those of others, by an exhibition at the Wiener Holocaust Library.