Remember: HMD is more than a day

By Olivia Marks-Woldman, January 24, 2013
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This coming Sunday is Holocaust Memorial Day. We in the Jewish community know the details of the Holocaust all too well, and dedicate a day in our calendar to mourn the loss of six million lives, and the damage and destruction to millions more: Yom HaShoah.

But our government is committed to ensuring that everyone commemorates it and other genocides since. In 2000, the government was a driving force behind HMD, created by international agreement at a conference, which concluded with a declaration describing the Holocaust as "an event that shook the foundations of civilisation".

In other words, the events of the Holocaust are so fundamentally shocking that it is not enough for the Jewish community to mourn. It is not enough for us to pass the memory down to our children and grandchildren. It is incumbent on everyone, regardless of age, background or ethnicity, to learn about the systematic persecution and murder of the Jewish population, to commemorate all the many victims of Nazi oppression, and to know that "never again" is meaningless when genocides have happened since.

Yet how can one day possibly be enough? How can a community service in the civic centre reach people who are working, or looking after children, or disengaged from formal activities? Doesn't it risk becoming lip service when we mouth "how important" it is, yet fail to make time to learn how genocide played out in Cambodia or Rwanda?

HMD was created by international agreement

When HMD was first established, people questioned whether one day could do justice to Holocaust memorial. Would it actually allow the public to feel as though they had done their bit, and could now just forget about it for the rest of the year? I would agree with anyone who says commemorating the Holocaust for 24 hours a year is not enough.

However, 12 years on, an extraordinary amount is done to ensure commemoration is not limited to a single day. The UN statement of commitment calls for the Holocaust to have a permanent place in our nation's collective memory. Our role at the HMD Trust is to provide a focus for this remembrance, which we do on January 27. This does not mean we fail to remember the significance of the Holocaust on January 28 and the rest of the year.

In the dozen years since HMD was established, it has grown to well over 1,000 events, half with audiences of more than 100. This year there will be some 1,500 activities across the UK. There is a ripple effect. It is our duty to re-tell these heartbreaking and inspiring stories, so others can go on to tell them too. This year our "Lessons Learnt?" film has already been viewed more than 50,000 times ahead of HMD.

We work with many other groups throughout the year to ensure we never forget. The Imperial War Museum has a permanent exhibition; the Anne Frank Trust works to challenge prejudice using her diary; and the Holocaust Educational Trust plays a year-round role. The Holocaust Centre in Nottinghamshire was Britain's first dedicated memorial and education centre. And we partner with organisations dedicated to remembering subsequent genocides, such the Aegis Trust, which works with survivors of the Rwandan genocide. A prison equalities worker told us that since first commemorating HMD with prisoners, hate-related incidents have decreased dramatically in the past year. Following a talk from a Rwandan genocide eyewitness for HMD 2012, Sussex police staff were inspired to implement a programme of speakers, to ensure the message continues all year.

So, 12 years on, my question is not "what can one day achieve?". It is "what can one day not achieve, when we light the candles of remembrance, hear the stories shared by survivors, and realise our capacity to create a safer, better future?"

Olivia Marks-Woldman is chief executive of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust

Last updated: 2:45pm, January 24 2013