Holocaust, genocide and the legacy of hope

By Carly Whyborn
27 Jan 2010

Each year the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust provides an annual theme for HMD activities. The purpose of this is to give a way in to this particularly sensitive and big issue. When we were carrying out our planning for the theme for 2010, we were particularly struck by the fact it was the 65th anniversary.

This means that its 65 years since the Soviet Army liberated the largest Nazi killing camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau. We spent some time thinking about what had happened since then and what happened to the survivors, to those people who did come out of the camps throughout Nazi-occupied Europe, and about the differences they have made to our communities today.

Sixty-five years since the liberation is a very poignant year. It is one of the very last years, difficult though this is to face, that we are going to have Holocaust survivors in the numbers that we do in the UK today. We estimate that there are around 5000 survivors left and we really wanted to supply a theme which bought their stories and their experiences to a much wider audience. This is how we came up with our theme – The Legacy of Hope.

HMD 2010 is an opportunity for us all, whoever we are, wherever we are, whatever we do or do not believe. It is a day for everybody to take on the experiences of those who suffered this most horrendous persecution and to make their voices and their hopes part of our shared future. The Legacy of Hope focuses on the experience of survivors and how it has shaped their lives - and indeed our own lives. The Legacy of Hope offers us all the opportunity to remember. We want to ensure that the people, the individuals, those people like you and me, who were murdered under the Nazi regime, are remembered. .

There is a well-known story about a young boy, a 19 year old, who was in the Vilna Ghetto in 1941. He wrote to his friend in Palestine about being inside the ghetto and what that meant to him. He saw the persecution and what was happening on the streets of Vilna first-hand and he wrote to his friend – “I just want someone to remember there was a man named David Berger.”

He was murdered a few weeks later. But we still remember. I can remember there was once a man named David Berger and I can tell people. I can tell people his story. I can tell people that he existed and this is what we are trying to do: we are trying to preserve memories for future generations and to honour those survivors who are still with us today. But there is more to it than this. I can use my voice. David had his right to speak up against discrimination taken away. I have not. I can fight against persecution. Using his example, his plea to be remembered, I can make a change in my life today.

Survivors have been through an experience that we cannot begin to imagine, but they have overcome that traumatic experience and here in the UK, they have contributed so much to our society. Whether it is in their families or communities, in business or in the sporting world, Holocaust survivors have helped to shape the society we are living in today and we want to recognise that. We want to push people to really take on that legacy - these things that the survivors teach us.

Holocaust survivors lead on many anti-discrimination groups. We find that we have Holocaust survivors fighting against the right wing in the UK and we have survivors who led on the Day for Darfur. We have found that Holocaust survivors work very closely with other survivors of more recent genocides – those in Cambodia, Rwanda and in Bosnia and certainly with those facing ongoing atrocities in Darfur today. Their experience can become part of our future. We can see that survivors such as Ben Helfgott are making a difference today. They are the ones asking people to not be filled with hatred, to respect difference, to do the very opposite of what was done to them over 65 years ago.

We want to offer everybody an opportunity to become part of our Legacy of Hope and we can do this in a number of ways. We can listen to the stories of the survivors, we can read them, we can watch them, we could even go and see a Holocaust survivor speaking at events across the UK in January 2010. We can spend a couple of minutes on the HMD website during our working day, we could read a survivor testimony and we can go home and tell our friends. We can go out after work and tell people: “Today I read this amazing story about this incredible lady called Kitty Hart-Moxon”. That is something we can all do.

Genocide does not just happen. It starts when celebrating difference breaks down. It starts when exclusion begins. We have to stop discrimination and persecution here in the UK. We are all capable of looking at the language of hatred and how this may creep into our everyday words. We can ask ourselves, do we use derogatory terms to describe people who are different from us? Do we respond if somebody tells us a racist joke which we find to be unacceptable? That is a real way in which you can become part of The Legacy of Hope. Let us stop using that language.

You can make the wishes of the survivors here today, part of your future. You can carry out their hopes. You can strive for that safe and secure society they have talked about. We really believe that Holocaust Memorial Day is a day for everybody. It is now time for Holocaust Memorial Day to become part of our lives, a time when we can remember the past in order to shape a safer and better future.

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(c) Carly Whyborn is Chief Executive Officer of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust. This is a transcript of her podcast introducing the theme for Holocaust Memorial Day 2010: The Legacy of Hope. It is reproduced with kind acknowledgments.

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