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01.05.19

Yom HaShoah: Keeping the Memory Alive

Yom HaShoah (the Destruction) is an annual day of remembrance commemorated by Jewish communities worldwide.

We remember the six million Jewish men, women and children who perished in the Holocaust as a result of the actions carried out by Nazi Germany and its collaborators during the Second World War, and the Jewish resistance in that period.

“Remember together we are one” is the theme for this year’s Yom HaShoah and never has this been more relevant as we face a period of uncertainty, increased hate crime against all minority communities, antisemitism, growth of Far-Right violent extremism across the whole of Europe and the normalisation of hateful language within society. Although the Holocaust took place over 70 years ago and we said, “Never Again”, subsequent genocides were not prevented. Why did we not learn? Why is it that history keeps repeating itself? As we remember those who were murdered in the Holocaust we ask ourselves how this could have happened. These are the questions which challenge us all as we reflect on the greatest crime instigated by a so-called ‘civilised’ nation. Today the people who survived, their families and the whole of society continue to grapple with the wounds and scars inflicted by a brutal and totalitarian state.

Between 1933 and 1945 the German Nazi government ‘legally’ introduced a range of measures to prevent Jewish people from full participation in the countries where they were born. They were denied access to employment and education, deprived of civil rights, identified by the compulsory wearing of the Yellow Star of David and eventually concentrated into ghettos. From there they were sent to their deaths, either through mass shootings, within the gas vans and gas chambers in the death camps of Chelmno, Treblinka, Sobibor and Belzec, and  through the dual purpose camps of Auschwitz and Majdanek where the minority young and fit were selected for forced labour within the concentration camp system and had to endure systematic starvation, deprivation and the most inhumane conditions. Many did not survive.

The Holocaust or Shoah did not begin with the gas chambers but with the identification of groups of people. Jews, Roma and Sinti and disabled people were considered ‘racially inferior’ and ‘subhuman’. They were eventually targeted for systematic genocide. By the end of the war 6 million Jewish men, women and children, 300,000 Roma and Sinti and approximately 250,000 people deemed ‘incurably sick’ had been systematically murdered in a planned and co-ordinated way as part of an overall set of accepted values, systems and processes implemented by the Nazi regime. Millions more were persecuted and died, including Soviet prisoners of war, Jehovah’s Witnesses, political dissenters and homosexuals, because they were considered to be a drain on society.  Whole communities, cultures and families were destroyed. We know now that this took place in plain sight and with the co-operation of officials and some local people across the whole of Nazi occupied Europe during the Second World War. Although there were acts of resistance and rescue, it was all too little, too late.

Today you can visit the Holocaust Exhibition and Learning Centre at the University of Huddersfield which was created by the Leeds-based charity, the Holocaust Survivors’ Friendship Association. ‘Through Our Eyes’ is a permanent exhibition which tells the stories of 16 Holocaust survivors and refugees who made new lives in Yorkshire.

You can make a difference by supporting our education work with young people and helping us to make sure this never happens again. Please make a donation to support our work and keep the memory alive.

 

Lilian Black

Chair, Holocaust Survivors’ Friendship Association