Light in the dark: Britain comes together to mark Holocaust Memorial Day

At thousands of events across the United Kingdom, ordinary Britons are gathering for Holocaust Memorial Day to honour the six million Jewish men, women, and children murdered by the Nazis


Just 80 years ago, Parliament was stunned into silence as MPs first learned that the genocide of the Jewish people of Europe was underway. The nation falls silent this week to remember the lives of those murdered in the Holocaust.

In Parliament, across Whitehall, and at thousands of events across the United Kingdom, ordinary Britons are gathering for Holocaust Memorial Day to honour the six million Jewish men, women, and children who perished at the hands of the Nazis.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak reaffirmed his commitment to Holocaust remembrance by pledging to legislate to build the Westminster Memorial and Learning Centre next to Parliament — a move that is not welcomed by all parts of the community.

In a video message marking the solemn day of remembrance, Mr Sunak paid tribute to the Holocaust survivors of Britain, who for so many years have spoken of the traumatic events of less than a century ago to educate future generations about the horrors inflicted on the Jewish people and do their utmost to ensure “never again”.

Addressing survivors directly, Mr Sunak said: “You have spoken the truth. You have inspired us with your courage. And you have taught us where hatred and prejudice can lead.

“It’s not enough to say thank you. I want to say more. I want to say that we have heard you. That we will fight antisemitism and all forms of hate wherever they are found. And that we will defend the truth of what happened to the Jewish people, now and forever."

At the national memorial ceremony held on Wednesday — the first since the pandemic — in the presence of Holocaust survivors, MPs, peers, and faith and community leaders on Wednesday evening, Chief Rabbi Sir Ephraim Mirvis spoke powerfully of how ordinary people were responsible for the Holocaust, and the victims were fellow ordinary people.

“Our societies stand and fall not primarily on the choices that are taken by tyrants or by knights in shining armour,” he said, “but rather by ordinary people, just like you and me.”

Referencing the ongoing plights of the Uighur people in China and the Rohingya people in Myanmar, the Chief Rabbi declared: “Surely the time has come for ordinary people around the globe to determine that never again means never again.”

Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing, and Local Communities, which helps fund the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust (HMDT), spoke about rising antisemitism in the UK and echoed the prime minister’s message on the importance of the Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre.

Speaking to the JC, Mr Gove added: “My message to the Jewish community is that we understand your fears and concerns and we are there alongside you in order to make sure that no Jewish individual in the UK should fear the prejudice which is out there because we are determined to tackle it.”

Labour’s Deputy Leader, Angela Rayner echoed the prime minister in praising the tireless efforts of Holocaust survivors who work so hard year-round to share their testimony: “This year in particular, I’ve thought about the difficulties that many of the survivors have faced over the decades having to re-live and tell their stories, but the significance and importance of that challenge, and how they have met that challenge with bravery, speak not only to the difficulties they face, but give a voice to the people not able to tell their stories.

“We now are at a point in our history where we have to do more to ensure that those voices are never silenced, and people never forget what happened.”

Throughout the week, the leadership of both political parties, including Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle, and hundreds of MPs, peers, Members of the Scottish Parliament and Members of the Senedd, signed the Holocaust Educational Trust’s Book of Commitment that honours those murdered during the Shoah and pays tribute to the tireless work of survivors.

On Tuesday, survivor Manfred Goldberg BEM, shared powerful testimony at a ceremony at the Foreign Office in the presence of Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, Israel’s Ambassador to the UK Tzipi Hotovely, and MPs and Peers of all parties. He appealed to the gathered leaders “to engrave into your hearts the following message; never remain silent when witnessing injustice. Please remember that all it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to remain silent”.

Mr Goldberg expressed his fears for the future amid a resurgence of antisemitism, appealing for politicians to be “courageous” in ensuring that social media companies are held accountable for antisemitic and Holocaust denial content that spreads so virulently. “Antisemites may be a small minority, but the immediacy of the social media websites has conferred a propaganda power on them that the Nazis could only dream of.”

His rallying cry came as he mourned the loss of his dear friend and fellow survivor Zigi Shipper, who passed away last week on his 93rd birthday. In a conversation with Ambassador Hotovely ahead of the ceremony, Mr Goldberg recalled how he first met Mr Shipper at the Stutthof concentration camp as a young teenager and told the story of their remarkable reunion at a convalescence centre in Britain shortly after the war ended.

Mr Shipper was also a survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau. This year, Holocaust Memorial Day falls 78 years to the day since the camp was liberated.

As time moves on and fewer Holocaust survivors remain to tell their stories, people of all ages are working tirelessly to ensure that testimony is recorded and shared with future generations. Thousands of memorial events are being held in every corner of Britain, from the Shetland Islands north of Scotland to the island of Jersey in the English Channel.

From vigils and interfaith memorial services to exhibitions at community centres, libraries and schools, ordinary people from all walks of life gathered to pay tribute to those lost and to continue the work of those who survived, ensuring that what happened in Europe less than a century ago is never repeated.

Karen Pollock CBE, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, explained the importance of future generations hearing directly from survivors: “In hearing a witness, they will become a witness, invested with a powerful responsibility to share what they have learnt and to speak out against the antisemitism and hatred that allowed the Holocaust to happen.”

On Friday night, iconic landmarks in all four nations will be lit up as part of the national “light the darkness” moment to honour the victims of the Holocaust. People across the country will light a candle on their windowsills encouraging passers-by “to remember those who were murdered for who they were” and “to stand against hatred and prejudice today”.

Holocaust Memorial Day Trust CEO Olivia Marks-Woldman OBE told the JC: “This year, we’re particularly asking people to reflect on the choices they have at different points in their lives and encourage people to make the choices that bring light to the darkness.

“We all have the opportunity to make the choices that bring more light rather than add to the darkness. We cannot be complacent – we have to learn from genocide, and we have to take responsibility for that learning and take action for a better future.”

The Holocaust Memorial Day 2023 UK Online Commemoration is taking place this evening (Thursday 26 January) - register to join it live here.

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