THE BLOG

This Holocaust Memorial Day, Let's Remember the Difference We Can Each Make

27/01/2016 07:57 GMT | Updated 26/01/2017 10:12 GMT

More than 75 years ago, just before the outbreak of the Second World War, an ordinary young man in his late twenties, heard about the plight of Jewish people living in Europe. He had been planning to go skiing in Switzerland, but a friend of his had persuaded him to visit Prague, where he was trying to assist Jewish relief efforts after the occupation of Czechoslovakia by the Nazis.

He set up a plan to try and rescue as many Jewish people as he possibly could. From a dining room table in a hotel, armed with only a typewriter, he devised a plan to help Jewish children get out of the country, and to safety in Britain. This man, who became known to us all many years later as Nicholas Winton, managed to save 669 lives and ensured that these people had the opportunity to rebuild themselves, to get jobs, to have families. Generations, quite simply, owe their lives to him.

Although we can try, it is impossibly difficult for us today to surmise exactly what motivated Nicholas Winton to take such heroic actions at such a precarious time. For the rest of his life, Nicholas always maintained that he had done what any person would have done - an act of duty, certainly nothing to be shouted about - but unfortunately we know that the story of the Holocaust shows that there were very few such brave individuals who risked their own lives in this manner. It really is remarkable.

This year's theme for Holocaust Memorial Day is 'Don't Stand By', and of course, the heroics of Sir Nicholas Winton - he was knighted for his efforts in 2003 - naturally spring to all of our minds when we consider what it means to stand up and be counted. We know, unfortunately, that prejudice, intolerance, racism, even antisemitism, continue to blight out world. Genocide, we know, has happened since the Holocaust, and murderous regimes continue to hold power throughout the world.

But when we think about our own actions, what we can do today, it is incomparable to the situation that Nicholas faced all those years ago. Unlike Nicholas, we have 24 hour news, bringing us the latest developments in global happenings: we cannot ignore what is going on in the world because it is beamed into our homes every day in picture perfect detail. Unlike Nicholas, with only the click of a button, we can see a plethora of opinion about the many ways in which we can and should be helping people - on Twitter, Facebook, through a click of Google. Unlike Nicholas, we can be in touch, in seconds, with relief efforts organised to help people, sometimes coordinated on a global basis, to make a change. We can express our support, our displeasure, our outrage, about so many things, and make it known, with the click of a button. We have access and understanding that people did not have 75 years ago.

We may look at someone like Sir Nicholas Winton in awe, and rightly so, but we can all act in his image. It is one thing to make your opinion heard and known but it is another entirely to act, to challenge or prevent antisemitism, prejudice and injustice wherever you see it. This Holocaust Memorial Day, we should all remember the incredible impact that this one man had. If we all came together to follow his example, there's no limit to the good we could do.

Karen Pollock MBE is Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust. For more information about the work of the Trust, please visit het.org.uk