Community stands ‘united, proud and resilient’ on Yom HaShoah

A ceremony was held next to the Houses of Parliament


School choirs join members of the Shabbaton Choir and the London Cantorial Singers at the Yom HaShoah UK 2024 ceremony (Photo: Meron Persey Photography)

Thousands gathered in the shadow of the Houses of Parliament on Sunday for the Yom HaShoah national Holocaust Commemoration event.

Held in Victoria Tower Gardens, the proposed site of the Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre, it was hosted by former Board of Deputies president Henry Grunwald OBE, who is chair of the National Holocaust Centre and Museum in Nottinghamshire.

He told the crowds there and the many watching on a livestream: “We come together this evening as proud Jews to remember the Shoah, to remember the worst that anti-Jewish racism has ever brought about.” 

Outgoing Board president Marie van der Zyl read “We Commune”, the Knesset’s Yad Vashem Law passed in 1953, to commemorate victims of the Holocaust, and noted that the community has been “tested” in these months since October.

She added: “There could be no greater backdrop than this, for us to stand united, proud, resilient, defiant, and unshakeable as British Jews as we declare these simple yet profound words for all to hear: Never again.”

Bronia Snow BEM, 95, told attendees about her life in former Czechoslovakia before the outbreak of the war and her journey on the Kindertransport, while Ruby Frankel, 18, from the Jewish Lads’ and Girls’ Brigade, shared the lesser-known story of the Kitchener Camp rescue and the importance of preserving history.

Lord Eric Pickles, UK Special Envoy for Post-Holocaust issues, condemned some “in authority and the media” who have failed to confront rising antisemitism and Holocaust denial and distortions. He said: “If history tells us anything, it’s that you can’t sidestep antisemitism,” and, pointing to Big Ben, he said: “So long as that tower stands, the Jewish community will have a place in Britain.”

Israeli Ambassador Tzipi Hotovely spoke about how after the Second World Wa,r the world promised the Jewish people that it would never happen again, a promise, she said, “feels hollow” after October 7.

“Hamas atrocities have awoken traumas of the past, but they have also reminded us that Jewish bravery, and the spirit of Jewish self-defence, is a long and proud tradition of our people,” she said.

Sir Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said it was “here alongside the mother of all parliaments that we declare that we will never be silent. We guarantee that the memories of the past will be in our minds forever. We will ensure the horrors of the past will always continue to be known, to be discussed and to be internalised for the sake of a better future for us all.”

Maurice Helfgott, chair of World Jewish Relief and son of Holocaust survivor, the late Sir Ben Helfgott, also spoke.

A candle-lighting ceremony took place as part of the evening’s proceedings, with each of the six candles being lit by a Holocaust survivor or relative, accompanied by a religious or communal leader and a member of the third or fourth generation.

The final candle, signifying “the generation that was lost and all that they would have contributed to the world”, was lit by Bronia Snow and coincided with the many thousands watching online lighting their own candle as part of Maccabi’s Yellow Candle UK initiative. Maccabi GB reports that 20,000 candles were distributed throughout the UK and lit simultaneously.

The event featured performances from a combined male voice choir, the Shabbaton Choir and the London Cantorial Singers, alongside 115 children from the choirs of eight Jewish primary schools.

Renditions of El Malei Rachamim, the Holocaust Memorial Prayer, and Oseh Shalom were sang, concluding with the Hatikvah and British national anthem.

The event was coordinated by Yom HaShoah UK.

London mayor Sadiq Khan had planned to attend as he has done in previous years, but was unable due to “serious personal reasons”, a spokesperson said.

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