In Britain, each January, tens of thousands of people come together regardless of background, age or faith, and commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day in their local communities. At more than 5,500 local events this year, including the national UK ceremony in central London, people from across the UK commemorated the Holocaust, the other victims of Nazi Persecution, and subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.
Whilst Holocaust Memorial Day specifically includes commemoration of genocides that took place after 1945, remembering the Holocaust, (the deliberate, systematic and brutal murder of six million Jewish men, women and children by the Nazis), holds an intrinsic value and importance in and of itself. The Holocaust represented a fundamental threat to the fabric of society in an appalling period of history, and the experiences of survivors and refugees hold a resonance for us all, offering opportunities to learn from past experiences. Commemorating the Holocaust does not, in any way, prevent or undermine commemoration of other genocides, quite the contrary.
For this reason, the Holocaust is, and always will be the core and at the heart of Holocaust Memorial Day. As a defining episode of history, the Holocaust prompted the first international coordinated response to such crimes and led to the establishment of the new international crime of 'genocide'. Holocaust Memorial Day Trust in its current form was established in 2005 to commemorate the Holocaust and subsequent atrocities from around the world which have been identified as genocide in international courts.
At its core, Holocaust Memorial Day brings together people from all backgrounds and from all corners of society, united in a shared aim of learning lessons from the past to create a safer, better future. From schools to museums, workplaces to places of worship and even in youth detention centres and prisons, the diversity of those taking part couldn't be more apparent.
HMD 2016, for example, saw young offenders in Scotland create an exhibition based on the life stories of Jews murdered in the Holocaust and individuals from the Roma community targeted under Nazi Persecution. A group of adults with learning difficulties in the West Midlands learnt about the Kindertransport programme and created an artwork to honour those who looked after a child refugee.
Along with thousands of others across the country, groups who may otherwise not access education about the Holocaust or about subsequent genocides have an opportunity on HMD to reflect, whilst also and crucially, confronting the challenges of modern day intolerance and hate.
Jackie Walker, vice chair of Momentum, made comments about HMD last week, which were ill informed and unhelpful, but we remain fully committed to supporting anyone who wants to get involved and organise a local activity commemorating both the Holocaust and also the millions of other victims of genocide over the past 65 years. HMDT provides free resources to help inspire activity organisers, who, often voluntarily, drive the messages home in cities, towns and villages around the nation.
Each year we develop a theme to challenge and deepen our thinking and in January 2017, we're focussing on How can life go on? Whilst of course, for millions of victims it didn't, others have had to deal with the impact of such brutality on survivors, family members, villages or towns, cultures or even whole ethnic or cultural groups. The theme raises questions around obtaining justice, displacement caused by genocide, the issues of denial and trivialisation, and many others. These questions affect and hold a resonance with all of us, regardless of our background or connection to genocides directly. You can learn more about this year's theme on HMDT's website here.
On HMD we honour survivors, remember every life lost and we commit each year to greater determination to learn from the past. Whilst there was one Holocaust, genocides continue and are frighteningly real. We believe that it is the responsibility of each of us, to support the work of people leading HMD events challenging hatred and intolerance, which, we fear, is back on the rise in the UK and in Europe.
Our belief at HMDT is that no matter who we are or what our backgrounds, we must do more to share and learn from the experiences of people affected by genocide. Whether we focus on the Holocaust, other victims of Nazi Persecution or on the genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia or more recently and ongoing in Darfur, our responsibility is to learn the crucial and contemporary lessons for the future.
To find out more about Holocaust Memorial Day and to access free resources to help you organise an activity, please visit hmd.org.uk