We must never forget the horrors of the Holocaust
4 min read
I sometimes hear the comment that the Holocaust is ancient history, and no longer needs commemorating in the same way these days.
Yet the deliberate murder of six million Jewish people – children as well as adults – is genocide on an unimaginable scale. Each life destroyed is worthy of commemoration. I hear even more often that people in Britain today know next to nothing about genocides that have taken place more recently – as indeed, I didn’t when I started as chief executive of Holocaust Memorial Day Trust (HMDT). As Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel so frequently reminded us: “To forget would not only be dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.”
The Holocaust is a dark stain on human history, an enduring reminder of the human capacity for unspeakable cruelty
But did you know that the United Kingdom only commemorated Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) for the first time in 2001 – more than 50 years after the end of the Second World War? Four years later, the United Nations made a formal commitment to commemorate the Holocaust by designating 27 January, which marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. And although the importance of museums in preserving history is indisputable, it was only around the same time that Holocaust museums began to be established, warning future generations to “Never Forget”.
The National Holocaust Centre and Museum, the UK’s first dedicated Holocaust memorial and learning centre, only came into existence in 1996, and Imperial War Museums Holocaust Galleries were first established in June 2000. The Holocaust Museum in Washington opened its doors to the public in 1993 while the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin was established in 2005. So, the question is: why did it take so long for these memorials to be established and for the world to collectively honour the memory of Jews who were destroyed simply because they were born Jews? As the saying goes, those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
The Holocaust is a dark stain on human history, an enduring reminder of the human capacity for unspeakable cruelty. But for at least two decades after the Second World War – until the late 1960s and even into the 1970s – hardly anyone talked publicly about what had happened to European Jewry. No one, it seemed, was interested in the subject. Even many survivors stayed silent – perhaps out of shock, trauma, and fear perhaps because no-one was listening. Today, things are different. Many survivors are sharing their testimonies far and wide. Great strides have been made in educating the world about the Holocaust and indeed about recent genocides too, with HMD the focal point.
HMD is a powerful annual reminder of the dangers of allowing prejudice, intolerance, and hatred to go unchecked. HMD offers immense opportunities to facilitate a better understanding of the Holocaust and of recent genocides, particularly among young people with little or no knowledge. It is an effective tool in the fight against Holocaust denial and distortion, conspiracy theories, and lies.
Rising levels of antisemitism in our world today, and ongoing prejudices such as anti-Muslim hatred or homophobia should make us more determined, not less, to continue marking HMD. And we know that there are regimes around the world that pursue discriminatory, dehumanising policies and persecute minorities within their countries.
Sadly, the number of Holocaust survivors able and willing to share their experiences publicly continues to dwindle. Before long, there will be no more survivors to provide us with first-hand accounts of the Holocaust. Nothing is more sacred and important to survivors than the aspiration of “Never Forget”.
Please join us this year and continue Eli Wisel’s legacy. Whether you join a Holocaust Memorial Day event, light a candle on 27 January, or watch the UK Commemorative Ceremony online, you will learn from genocide for a better future.
Steven Frank is a survivor of the Holocaust and Olivia Marks-Woldman is the chief executive of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust.
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