On Holocaust Memorial Day 2014

The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust (HMDT) is the charity which promotes and supports Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD). 27 January is the day for everyone to remember the millions of people killed in the Holocaust, Nazi Persecution and in subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur. 27 January marks the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp.

On HMD we can honour the survivors of these regimes of hatred and challenge ourselves to use the lessons of their experience to inform our lives today.

HMD is a time when we seek to learn the lessons of the past and to recognise that genocide does not just take place on its own, it’s a steady process which can begin if discrimination, racism and hatred are not checked and prevented. We’re fortunate here in the UK; we are not at risk of genocide. However, discrimination has not ended, nor has the use of the language of hatred or exclusion. There is still much to do to create a safer future and HMD is an opportunity to start this process.

Holocaust Memorial Day on 27 January 2014 this year is themed Journeys. On HMD 2014 we can learn how journeys themselves became part of genocide, and how the journeys undertaken were often experiences of persecution and terror for so many people who suffered in the Holocaust, under Nazi Persecution and in the subsequent genocides. We can also learn about the life stories of journeys that brought survivors to the UK and how, in many instances, journeys of return have been part of the experience of rebuilding.

The experience of those affected by the Holocaust and genocide is characterised by forced journeys. Many of these journeys ended in death: persecutors forcibly moved huge numbers of people – in trains, cattle trucks and on death marches, from homes in villages and towns and across countries. Some journeys ended in survival: when those persecuted made journeys to escape, some in disguise, some into hiding. There are journeys too, made after liberation: to life in new countries, or returning home to the places where neighbours may have contributed to the persecution.

Individuals and families were forced to move away from their homes and familiar surroundings, into the unknown. These journeys were mostly undertaken in fear and in ignorance of what would be found at the journey’s end. Refugees travelled across countries and across seas. We read of endless queues for visas, train or boat tickets, of timetables and waiting on station platforms. We read of people struggling to carry suitcases with whatever they could pack in a time of desperate need.

Similar journeys may be made during other war situations. However, journeys undertaken during the Holocaust and subsequent genocides are underpinned by the perpetrators’ systematic and planned use of vast transport infrastructure and personnel resources to facilitate stages of genocide: separating families and communities, organising and preparing for torture and murder by moving populations to ghettoes and camps.

The history of the Holocaust, Nazi persecution and of the subsequent genocides is of upheaval, uprooting individuals, families and even whole communities, people forced to travel from village to city, from town to hiding places. For survivors who arrived in the UK, their journeys ended with the establishment of new lives and new homes in a country that at first felt very alien.

Further information about Holocaust Memorial Day can be found on the following website: www.hmd.org.uk

22nd January, 2014