Dame Joanna Lumley and Holocaust survivors light candles in Piccadilly Circus

Monuments and landmarks across the UK are lit up in purple on Friday to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day


As buildings and iconic landmarks across the country were lit up purple to mark International Holocaust Memorial Day, Dame Joanna Lumley and Holocaust survivors Joan Salter MBE and Martin Stern MBE lit ceremonial candles in Piccadilly Circus.

They were joined also by Antoinette Mutabazi, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide, members of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust (HMDT), and members of the public.

Dame Lumley told the JC: “There is a great terror that the Holocaust might be overlooked, or kicked into history, when it’s something so phenomenally important to remember. That’s why we are here today and every year, because soon the survivors will be gone and we’ve got to pick up the flag and carry it on.

“The Holocaust epitomised in the most grotesque way how awful mankind can be. So it is with loving remembrance that we recognise all those who were slaughtered, and to learn from it so we can spot this kind of discrimination and stamp it out before it can ever grow out of control again.

“It is a real privilege to be able to mark Holocaust Memorial Day by being here in central London with survivors of genocide. I hope that by handing out these candles and inviting people to light them this evening, we can provide people with an opportunity to remember those who were murdered for being who they were, and to reflect on ways that they can challenge hatred and prejudice today.”

The day began at 8 in the morning on Friday with Dame Lumley and the survivors handing out memorial candles to commuters and passers-by in Piccadilly circus, inviting them to remember the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust and the millions of others who perished in subsequent genocides in Rwanda, Cambodia, Bosnia and Darfur.

The recipients of the over 200 candles given out were invited to light and place them safely in their windows this evening as part of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust’s national “Light the darkness” moment.

Holocaust Memorial Day Trust CEO Olivia Marks-Woldman OBE said: “Having Joanna Lumley, one of Britain’s most respected actors, handing out candles alongside Holocaust and genocide survivors sends a powerful signal about the importance of everyone – regardless of their background – learning from genocide.

“Holocaust Memorial Day is for everyone, and we all have a collective responsibility to create a society free from identity-based persecution.”

The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust’s theme this year was "Ordinary people", highlighting the fact that it is every day people who are both facilitators and victims of genocide.

Chair of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust Laura Marks OBE explained the significance of handing out candles to everyday Londoners.

She told the JC: “Being here in the heart of London is I think quite symbolic; it tells a story in its own right that we are here amongst every-day people, ordinary people, asking them to reflect for just a moment on what’s happened in the past and what can be done in the future.

“Genocides take place when the government and the country allow, or want, hatred to get out of hand. But today we are here in the centre of our capital, proud and unafraid, saying no, that’s not going to happen here.”

Dr Martin Stern MBE, 84, before going to Buckingham Palace to mark Holocaust Memorial Day with HM King Charles III and the Queen Consort, was part of the group handing out candles in the frigid January wind Friday morning.

He told the JC: “The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust have done something absolutely brilliant and innovative this year. It is making a turn in this kind of education from merely describing something that happened to people different to us, from the past, and in a country far away, to focusing on an understanding that ordinary people get drawn into these horrors.

“In every genocide, you get the same kind of story from the survivors. They say, “we were neighbours” and “we exchanged presents on each other’s religious holidays” or “he was my maths teacher, until he came with the Gestapo.” Time and time again, it is ordinary people who are both the victims and the perpetrators of horror. This can only be defeated through education.

“Education is the key component in preventing this sort of thing from ever happening again. But it is a massive task, as became evident in the Netherlands this week when it was shown that 1 in 4 young people there have doubts about the Holocaust.”

Dr Stern referenced a report published earlier this week in which it was shown that 1 in 4 young people in the Netherlands believe the Holocaust was a myth.

Dr Stern, born in Holland in 1938, survived camps at both Westerbork and Theresienstadt and has spent the last nineteen years talking, reading, and educating others about the horrors of the Holocaust.

“For me, it has become like a full-time job. For Holocaust survivors, every day is Holocaust Memorial Day. The goal is for everybody to come together in solidarity with knowledge of history. We need to stand together or, as the saying goes, we will hang together,” he said.

Alongside Mr Stern, Joan Salter MBE was also present on Friday to hand out candles and to take part in the evening’s lighting ceremony.

She said: “For many years following the Holocaust, it was like people were too embarrassed to talk about it. The world was still in shock. But now, it has become more important than ever to remember and talk about it.

“We do this not just to remember the Holocaust but to remember what hate can lead to. Hate can make ordinary people do the most terrible things.”

Antoinette Mutabazi, survivor of the Rwandan genocide, also spoke to the JC about the significance of the day as she handed out candles.

“Today and this evening we gather together in light to honour all those lost in darkness.

“Holocaust Memorial Day is one of the most important days of the year to learn from the past and from history, to the benefit of the future.

“It has been a great joy of my life to work with the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust to talk to young people to try and make them the best that they can be.”

International Holocaust Memorial Day is commemorated annually on January 27, marking the date in which Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp was liberated.

Tributes to those lost in the Holocaust and other genocides rolled in this week from public figures across the political spectrum.

On Monday, London Mayor Sadiq Khan spoke to an audience of survivors, community leaders, and elected officials about the importance of never being complacent about Holocaust education.

On Thursday, Holocaust survivors shared testimony in Parliament in the presence of MPs and speaker Lindsay Hoyle.

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