Sixty-eight years after Auschwitz: Why we still remember – The Independent

In Features, History Reviews, Newspaper Contributions on February 5, 2013 at 11:11 am

By Gabriella Swerling Notebook Sunday, 27 January 2013 at
12:49 pm Every year on 27 January since 2000, this day has been
known in the UK as Holocaust Memorial Day. This day honours the
memory of the Holocaust’s victims and marks the Soviet liberation
of the concentration and death camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, 68 years
ago on 27 January 1945. Every year the world says “Never Forget” to
genocide. But Cambodia, Ethiopia, Darfur, Indonesia, Rwanda and
Bosnia are just a few examples that serve as reminders that the
world forgot its promise. history As the mass
media once again turns its annual spotlight onto the
Holocaust, academics, museums teachers and communities prepare
special activities and events and the remaining Holocaust survivors
tell their stories once again. The theme for this year is
‘Communities Together: Build a Bridge’, honouring the communities
that have been destroyed and ravaged by genocide, as well as
reflecting on the significance of stamping out discrimination in
our communities. Today and all last week in the lead up to
Holocaust Memorial Day, there have been events all around the
country – in schools, universities, town halls, community centres –
to educate people about the Holocaust and its contemporary
relevance. On 22 January the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET)
hosted an event with David Miliband MP and the Executive
Editor of The Times, Daniel Finkelstein discussing their personal
connections to the Holocaust.

Last Monday Prime Minister David Cameron met with Holocaust
survivor Freda Wineman and discussed the issue of learning
lessons from the past and “never becoming complacent” towards
prejudice. During the meeting, Cameron signed the HET’s Book of
Commitment which MPs sign each year in a pledge to remember the
Holocaust and fight discrimination. The HET runs also runs the
Lessons From Auschwitz Project, in which two students from
each school in England, Scotland and Wales are taken to
Auschwitz-Birkenau to pass on what they have learnt there to their
schools and communities. Such acts of remembrance reject Holocaust
denial, which doubly murders the victims by reducing the scale of
the atrocities and extinguishing their memory in an arrogant
attempt to rewrite history. Holocaust Memorial Day was
instigated by MP Andrew Dismore who visited
Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1999 with the HET. Shocked by the scale of
the atrocities there, he was so moved by his visit that on his
return to England he proposed a bill, “to introduce a day to learn
and remember the Holocaust”. Between 1933 and 1945, the Nazis
attempted to systematically annihilate European Jewry. Through a
combination of propaganda, legislation and centuries of
anti-Semitism to exploit, they murdered six million Jews. This
operation spread like a cancer throughout Europe and is known as
The Holocaust. Millions of others suffered at the hands of the Nazi
regime such as: homosexuals, gypsies, physically and mentally
disabled people, prisoners of war, Slavic peoples, Poles and
religious and political dissidents. Nazi ideology dictated that in
the name of racial purification, Germany must purge herself of
these subhuman “Untermenschen” or “undesirables” who did not
conform to the blonde-haired, blue-eyed, ruddy-cheeked
Aryanised status quo. They ghettoised Jews throughout
Nazi-occupied Europe before sending them to their deaths in mass
shootings and concentration camps. Despite the time that has
passed, there are still fewer Jews in the world today than in 1940
and Jews make up approximately 0.2 per cent of the global
population. Holocaust survivor Arek Hersch was born in Poland
and was transported to his first concentration camp by the
Nazis when he was 11-years-old. He has written a book called A
Detail of History and made a documentary AREK (2005) which recount
his extraordinary life. Like many Holocaust survivors,
Arek has dedicated his life to educating people about the
Holocaust and retells his tale of loss, luck and growing up as a
Jew during the Holocaust with same moving intensity every time. In
2009 he was awarded an MBE for voluntary service to Holocaust
education. As the only member of his family to survive the
Holocaust, Arek stresses the importance of commemoration
“because it actually happened and every year, we have a dedication
to that situation”. “It’s very important to me as well and I light
a candle for my parents and my family that were all killed. I was
the only one that ever came out from the Holocaust, from all the
different camps, so to me it’s very, very important.” As
concentration camps become museums, fresh grass grows over mass
graves and the number of Holocaust survivors decreases with every
year that passes, it becomes even more important to not let the
memory of its victims fade as time passes. The past may be a
different country yet the battle between national forgetting and
collective European remembrance has been a struggle since 1945.
Each country had a unique experience of the Second World War and so
each has a multifaceted culture of remembrance towards Holocaust
victims. After the war, Germany assumed a status of victimhood.
France was silent for decades on its Vichy past, highlighting the
resistance movement over its collaborative shame. Italy upheld the
myth of the “brava gente”. Poland, ravaged by both German and
Soviet occupation, glorified the memory of the Polish resistance to
Nazism in the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, at the cost of remembering
the boldest act of Jewish resistance to the Holocaust in the Warsaw
Ghetto Uprising in 1943. And in Britain, historical debate still
rages as to what extent Churchill knew about the Holocaust and
stoical, jolly good old Blitz spirit continues to dominate our
prime-time television shows. Israel remembers differently. Its
version of Holocaust Remembrance Day, Yom Ha’Shoah, was
inauguarated in 1953 by Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and
President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi. It commemorates the approximately
six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust and the Jewish
resistance during the Nazi-era. Each country is coming to terms
with the past at different times, all the while anti-Semitism,
racism and genocide continue all over the world. The
twentieth-century is regarded by many scholars as the “century
of genocide” therefore there is still, and always will be an urgent
need to remember the victims. Amidst the clouded memories of
selective remembering and forgetting, we must not let their
memories fade into the past or the obscurity of a history textbook.
Holocaust Memorial Day takes a stand for the future by honouring
the victims of the century of genocide, and raising awareness of
crimes that the world does not want to commit again in the future.
This is why the world should carry on saying “Never Forget”. For
more information visit Follow updates about
commemorations all across the country on Twitter via #HMD and


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