Holocaust Memorial Day falls on January 27th every year, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp. On Holocaust Memorial Day every year, events are organised across the world that honour the survivors of the Holocaust and subsequent genocides, and discuss how the past informs our lives today, with a focus on preventing further tragedies, challenging hatred, and creating a safer future.
This year’s theme is ‘DON’T STAND BY’, a theme that resonates during the current refugee crisis. The theme this year was voiced by Holocaust survivor Elie Weisel when he said: “I swore never to be silent whenever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormenter, never the tormented.”
Rohan Kon, Chair of the Student Council attended the event and said: “I’m really happy about the theme for this year and hope it helps focus and emphasise the still current danger of racial, religious and cultural hatred and apathy.”
Holocaust Memorial Day is marked by thousands in the UK each year, in workplaces, schools and public spaces. The Holocaust Memorial Day event at Newcastle University was organised by Newcastle University Jewish Society for the second year running.
I swore never to be silent whenever human beings endure suffering and humiliation.
Anna Ehrlich, president of JSOC and organiser of the event explained it’s significance to her: “For me, it is so important to have events such as these to educate Jews and non-Jews about what happened in the Holocaust, both in honour and respect of everyone that was a victim of the holocaust, but also to remember and prevent such persecution in the world today.”
The first speaker is the daughter of a survivor – Marta Josephs spoke of her father’s story, of how he was forced through concentration camps during the Holocaust. Marta then goes on to emphasise the importance of the stories of survivors being passed down, and the duty of the descendants of survivors to pass on those stories.
The next speaker, Gabriele Keenaghan recounts her experience as a child who escaped Austria shortly after the devastation of Kristallnacht, via the Kindertransport initiative, whereby 10,000 children from various cities were given refuge before war was declared in Europe. The rescue effort saved thousands of lives as people in Britain welcomed refugees into their homes, most of who stayed in their adopted country following the conclusion of the war. She speaks of her faith in the hospitality of the British people and of her hopes for the refugee crisis.
Simon Wallfisch is next to take to the floor. He tells his grandmother’s story, of how her ability to play the cello saved her life on several occasions as a prisoner who played with the women’s orchestra at Auschwitz-Birkenau. A cellist himself, he delivers a performance of ‘Prayer’ by Ernest Bloch. Simon also performed at Brundibar arts festival in Newcastle, which also focused some of its events on honouring the survivors of the Holocaust.
Silence encourages the tormenter, never the tormented
A Jewish prayer is then led by Rabbi Aaron Lipsey, the Jewish Chaplain for the University, and JSOC member Cherryania delivers a powerful performance of ‘Eli Eli’ by Hannah Senesh. This is followed by the lighting of six candles to represent the six million Jews who were slaughtered during the Holocaust, marked by a minute of silent contemplation by those in attendance.
In keeping with the mission to educate current and future generations, the Holocaust Educational Trust, a charity, is involved in organising educational events across the UK, including the ‘Lessons From Auschwitz’ project, raising awareness and aiming to educate students about the horrors of the Holocaust. The ‘Lessons From Auschwitz’ project sends students to Krakow in Poland, allowing them to visit the Polish town of Oświęcim, the camp itself, and to hear testimonies from the survivors of the Holocaust, the numbers of which dwindle with each year.
The Holocaust is the largest genocide in living memory, but since the Holocaust, there have been genocides in: Cambodia in the 1970s, when those of Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai descent were targeted, as were Muslims, Christians and Buddhists; Rwanda in 1994, where the Tutsis and Hutus were murdered; Bosnia in 1995, which involved the massacre at Srebrenica (the single largest mass murder in Europe since the Holocaust and the atrocities in Darfur (which are ongoing).