Holocaust Memorial Day supporters warn against complacency

By staff writers
27 Jan 2007

As a record 5,300 events take place across Britain this weekend to mark Holocaust Memorial Day 2007, organisers and supporters are warning about complacency over whether “it could happen again”.

Between 1940 and 1945 the Nazis killed some 1.5 million people at Auschwitz-Birkenau, mainly Jews as well as Poles, gypsies, homosexuals, Russian prisoners of war, and other national groups.

Overall six million Jews and many others became deliberate victims of Hitler’s genocidal regime. The unique historical horror was the attempt to wipe out an entire race.

Yet a recent YouGov UK opinion poll found that 41 per cent of people believe a Holocaust could happen in Britain, while 36 per cent think most people would do nothing to stop it.

The great majority of – 79 per cent - are unaware that black people were also targets of the Nazis and nearly 50 per cent had no idea that the Roma community, lesbians and gay men, and people with disabilities, were also persecuted.

Earlier this week, Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams called for the Holocaust to be remembered in "painstaking" detail to prevent it being challenged by future generations.

He said the annual date should continue for the foreseeable future and all people in Britain should be encouraged to mark it.

Declared Dr Williams: “It is a day to recommit in the most practical ways to continue the struggle against the underlying anti-Semitic causes of that event, which remain present and virulent within our communities in this country as in others.”

He added: “If 2006 was a year to mark the 350th anniversary of the ending of the exclusion of the Jewish community from this country, then may 2007 be the year in which we resolve in every local setting to combat anti-Semitic language and behaviour with new vigour.”

Holocaust Memorial Day also acknowledges and remembers other acts of genocide and terror. In 2007 there is a particular emphasis on Darfur.

But the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), an umbrella group consulted by the Home Office, refuses to participate, claiming the event is “too exclusive” and that it has been used to mask current Israeli oppression of Palestinians.

However the argument appears to be swinging in a different direction, with former MCB general secretary Sir Iqbal Sacranie and others predicting that the organisation will be involved in HMD next year.

A private meeting of the MCB executive committee saw more than a third of its senior figures vote to join Jewish leaders and those from other religions in the commemoration, according to a report in The Guardian newspaper.

Although the day is officially 27 January, the main Holocaust day commemoration in Newcastle tomorrow has been delayed by 24 hours because it falls on the Sabbath. Organisations such as the Islamic Foundation and the British Muslim Forum will be represented.

Shahid Malik, Labour MP for Dewsbury, argues that the boycott must be lifted. "Whether they like it or not their current position looks like anti-Semitism. I know there was a debate within the Muslim Council of Britain. It is unfortunate that the old guard are stuck in a timewarp."

However, Massoud Shadjareh, chair of the Islamic Human Rights Commission, told the Guardian that the boycott had grassroots support, claiming: "If they had made any other decision they would have been wrong-footed. A poll in the Jewish Chronicle showed that 31% of people think there should be a genocide day. This is not an extremist view."

Fiyaz Mughal of Muslims Against Anti-Semitism, who is also director of Faith Matters, will take part in tomorrow's commemoration.

He declared: "On a day like this we must come together. If the MCB is in some way reflecting the grassroots then the grassroots need to be educated. What we need is real leadership."

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