Holocaust Memorial Day

Today is International Holocaust Memorial Day, as designated by United Nations resolution, the date chosen to recall the liberation of Auschwitz on the 27th January 1945. Astoundingly, that resolution was only passed in 2005, a full sixty years years after Auschwitz and there are those who question why a specific day of remembrance was needed so many years later. Doesn’t everyone know of the Holocaust already? Isn’t it taught in schools? What about x, y or z group who has also faced discrimination? Yes, it’s taught, but not everywhere and clearly from those comments–and large numbers of others being posted on Twitter today–many failed to learn the lesson.

Today is a day of remembrance. We have a moral duty to remember. Six million lives lost, a full two-thirds of the Jewish population of Europe gone forever, and still within living memory. For so many deaths to be forgotten would be inhuman.

Yet, remembering the past is not the only purpose of the day, it is also about learning the lessons of the past to ensure a better future. History suggests we’re slow learners. How many times in the decades since the Holocaust have people said ‘never again’ in the aftermath of a genocide, only for the world to again fail to act when all the warning signs return.

We must not forget that while it was the Nazis who prosecuted the Holocaust, they did not act in isolation. Their actions required the turning of a blind eye and all-too-often the active involvement of everyday men and women in countries across Europe. I’m afraid that in the hatred we have witnessed whipped up by politicians and newspapers in Britain against those of other nationalities, it is far too easy to see how even now such complicity could be created at home.

Had the world cared about the clear risk Hitler posed to Jews in the 1930s, many more lives would have been saved. Yet, Britain was amongst those nations whose first response to Jews fleeing Nazi persecution was to tighten immigration restrictions. This should come as little surprise, immigration restrictions did not exist in Britain until the early Twentieth Century, when rules were brought in to prevent Jews fleeing persecution in Europe from finding safety in the UK, we were simply keeping to form. It would be nice to think that things had improved, that we have learned the value of human life and the importance of providing safety where needed, that our first response to people seeking asylum wasn’t sending gunboats into the English Channel.

Every 27th January, we have the chance to reflect on what has happened and its lessons for today. Every 27th January, there is the hope that finally we will learn what it really means in practice to say ‘never again’.

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