Over 30,000 tune into virtual Yom HaShoah ceremony

Communal leaders, survivors and TV personalities gathered for online event


Forced online for a second consecutive year, communal leaders, survivors and TV personalities gathered virtually for the UK's Yom HaShoah ceremony on Wednesday.

Over 30,000 people tuned in remotely to watch survivors share first-hand testimonies and light commemorative candles in memory of the six million Jews who perished in the Shoah. 

Schools, Jewish charities and youth groups also took part, lighting candles remotely from across 250 locations in the UK. 

Another candle was also later lit in memory of the more than 250 Holocaust survivors and refugees who died in the UK in the last year.

Board of Deputies president Marie van der Zyl acknowledged in her opening speech that the pandemic had “sadly” brought the ceremony exclusively online. 

“However although we cannot meet in person we are almost definitely together in spirit,” she stressed, later paying tribute to “the remarkable achievements of the survivors and refugees.”

Yom HaShoah UK chair Neil Martin said organisers "wanted to ensure it was a truly national event that would bring the generations together to remember from all parts other community."

"It’s humbling therefore to have received so many messages about the profound effect the ceremony has had on all those who watched and remembered on Yom HaShoah," he said

In his speech, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said that he felt on Yom HaShoah “totally inadequate trying to muster up some suitable words”.

“But as difficult as it is, we all have a duty to speak,” he added, highlighting the importance of honouring survivors and preserving the lessons of the Holocaust.

“Most importantly of all, we must speak about our pledge of remembrance from generation to generation. Our responsibility to continue the greatly important work of the survivors in order that we guarantee their first-hand testimonies will not be forgotten nor be denied,” he said.

The evening also included contributions from Game of Thrones star Laura Predelska, TV judge Robert Rinder, actress and anti-racism campaigner Tracy-Ann Oberman and deputy Israeli ambassador Sharon Bar-Li.

Ms Oberman highlighted the bravery of Polish Jewish resistance fighters who fought back against the Nazi regime during the April 1943 Warsaw ghetto uprising.

“They stood up, fought back and gave their lives in defence of the Jewish community. We honour them, we remember them, and we are inspired by them,” she said.
In another segment, survivors related their experiences of isolation during lockdown, with Alfred Garwood describing the “real pain” of being away from his loved ones.

“The fact that you can’t be close to people, have contact with your friends and family, particularly family, has been a real burden, a real pain, because family becomes the most important thing in your life when you’re a survivor,” he said. 

Lily Ebert, who recuperated from coronavirus earlier this year, saying that “luckily” she recovered from the “terrible” illness. 

Ruth Barnett said she had felt “trapped” and that it had been difficult to organise online shopping. “It’s been a very tough year for us,” she recalled. 

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