When I was a child (I was born just 10 years after World War 2 ended) there was no word we used for the genocides that Nazi Germany committed. To a large extent, these things weren’t spoken of. My best friend Paul’s mother Lorli (they lived down the road) “came to England as a child”. It was years later that the Kindertransport came into public discourse and I realised that “Auntie” Lorli was one of these children. It turned out that Paul’s father Harry also escaped Germany just in time. Neither of them saw their parents again. Apparently, I discovered just last year, Harry saw some action in France, helping the resistance, but that’s another story. (My own ancestors came from Russia/Poland around 1900, fleeing from an earlier brand of anti-Jewish persecution.)
Nowadays, we have Holocaust Memorial Day, which every year is on January 27, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. But HMD isn’t just for Jews – nor is it all Jews have, of which more later. HMD commemorates all the peoples who just weren’t ‘right’ for the Nazi version of the world: Roma, Sinti, LGBT+ and others were all persecuted, impoverished, enslaved and murdered. And it’s vital to remember that HMD is also there to commemorate the genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. This is because the Nazis weren’t the first to commit genocide and aren’t the last.
Jews also have our own day to remember. We call it Yom Ha’Shoah (Yom is Day, Shoah is Holocaust). It’s held in Spring on 27th of the month of Nisan, which by the Jewish calendar is the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Both this and HMD are special, solemn events and I hope you don’t mind that we keep one for ourselves, while fully and completely supporting the world’s memorial on 27 January.
It’s worth remembering that anti-semitism is getting stronger. It doesn’t go away, it ebbs and flows just like any other human disease. There are those who deny the Holocaust happened and others who say it is vastly exaggerated. And on our campuses, anti-semitism is on the rise: there’s been a 22% increase in anti-semitic acts in the last two years, up to 150 across 30 universities. That’s reported incidents, and includes physical assaults as well as acts perpetrated by academics!
I am proudly a supporter of the Anne Frank Trust, which doesn’t teach only about the Holocaust. It goes into schools and helps young people aged 9-15, to understand all forms of prejudice, to learn how to challenge it, and to change lives for the better. Perhaps you might like to make a donation.
Mark Sandler 27.1.23