Holocaust Memorial Day participation dropped almost 20 per cent

October 7 was blamed for the decrease in numbers


Holocaust survivors light six candles at the Holocaust Memorial Day service of AJR in London Belzise Sq Synagogue on 22 1 2024. (Photos: Adam Soller Photography)

There was a significant drop in the number of schools and organisations that took part in Holocaust Memorial Day this year, due to “unprecedented challenges” engaging people due to October 7, organisers said.

Uptake dropped by nearly 20 per cent compared to last year in marking the one day in the British calendar that commemorates victims of the Holocaust and other genocides.

Speaking at the Trust’s 2024 impact review, Olivia Marks-Woldman, HMD chief executive, said: “It was a particularly challenging year and if I didn’t mention that, it would be an elephant in the room.”

Holocaust Memorial Day was marked by 3,700 organisations this year, a significant drop from the 4,500 which took part in 2023, but “more than we initially feared,” said Marks-Woldman.

Holocaust Memorial Day was launched in 2001 and takes place every year on January 27, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp.

Speaking to the JC, Marks-Woldman said: “The horrific attacks carried out by Hamas on October 7 and the subsequent war in Gaza have fuelled a rise in antisemitism worldwide, including the UK.

“Certain individuals and far-right groups have also seized upon the situation to incite anti-Muslim hate.”

The JC reported in January that some schools and minority faith communities were among those who had decided not to take part in HMD events due to security concerns and fears of fuelling community tensions.

The event on Monday saw the launch of the theme for next year’s HMD, which is For A Better Future, part inspired by the challenges they faced this year, said Marks-Woldman. “We hope next year will bring people together under this banner. We need to engage in getting communities together and involved in what HMD is doing.”

HMD 2025 will mark the 80th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. “Eighty years on, silence is not an option,” Marks-Woldman said.

“Despite the challenges we are facing in bringing people together, we must go on talking about it. We have to speak up against denial and distortion.”

Tamara Finkelstein, who is permanent secretary at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, spoke about the importance of telling her own family’s Holocaust history within the setting of the civil service.

“It is always the outreach to people who have never met a Jewish person before that has the most impact,” she said.

“It is important for those in the civil service to hear these stories as part of HMD and other events because we shape services and advise on policy.”

She said learning about the Holocaust was a chance to see where the abuse of state power could end up.

Also speaking at the event was Dr Martin Stern, who was five years old when he was taken to a concentration camp.

He said the well-known phrase “’never again’ satisfied only our delusional self-righteousness” as he pointed to other examples of genocide following the Holocaust.

“People and peoples guilty of genocide deny and distort and falsify the evidence. Injustice masquerades as justice, leaving people deaf, blind and unconscious to their victims.”

Lord Pickles, who is the United Kingdom’s special envoy for post-Holocaust issues, said the 2025 event may be one of the last times people get the chance to hear living testimonies of survivors.

He said: “It doesn’t take much for people to slip into casual dinner party antisemitism, and it’s not the algorithm’s fault; it is ours.

“We’re on the front line of defending liberal democracy and need to hold on to the truth.”

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