Tens of thousands of people in Britain and millions across the world are today (27 January 2010) marking Holocaust Memorial Day - taking the theme 'the legacy of hope' in seeking to remember the past so as to shape a better future.
HMD 2010 coincides with the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the largest Nazi killing camp in World War Two, Auschwitz-Birkenau. Special services and memorials are taking place there today.
Carly Whyborn, chief executive of the Holocaust Memorial Trust, commented: "This is a very poignant year. It is one of the very last years that we are going to have Holocaust survivors in the quantity that we do in the UK today."
She added: "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 and 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 don’t believe. It’s 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."
This morning, the Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, devoted his BBC Radio 4 'Thought for the Day' to recalling the story of the preservation of memories from the Warsaw ghetto under the Nazis. Over 35,000 accounts were stored in tin cans buried there, and were later recovered by survivors in order to make sure that the true story was not lost.
Dr Sacks described it as an extraordinary testimony of hope that good would outlive and triumph over evil.
Different regions of Britain are marking HMD in different ways - church services, exhibitions and action-based initiatives.
In southwest England, people are being urged to speak up against racial abuse. Exeter Community Safety Partnership is encouraging people not to suffer racial intimidation or discrimination in silence.
The Partnership's co-ordinator, Michael Miller, commented to the local media: "Some people suffer a daily round of intimidation, discrimination and abuse. We would urge anyone suffering in this way – and their friends and neighbours – to report these incidents to the police or other authorities."
The Muslim Council of Britain will be officially represented by Dr Shuja Shafi, head of its chaplaincy committee, at the Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration in London later today. The MCB's spokesperson, Inayat Bunglawala, also intends to go in his personal capacity.
The MCB Secretary General, Dr Mohamed Abdul Bari, is unable to go because he is at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland.
The Council has been mired in controversy in the recent past because of a boycott of HMD occasioned by its accusation that other genocides were not being adequately recognised, something HMD organisers have always rejected - while adverting to the unique character of the Nazi Holocaust.
After attending for the first time in 2008, the MCB resumed its boycott of the event last year, but is now back on board - though there has been no mention of this on its website.
The MCB has been campaigning to draw attention to the alarming growth of anti-Muslim attitudes and behaviour in Britain and elsewhere today.
Roma people are also suffering severe discrimination across Europe, human rights activists point out.
Moreover, the Jewish Agency has reported that anti-semitic incidents last year were the highest since the Holocaust. During the first half of 2009, there were as many anti-semitic incidents as in the entire preceding year, following Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. These included two murders, both in the USA, one of which was the shooting of a non-Jewish guard at the Holocaust Memorial museum.
Meanwhile, in Scotland, a Jewish Holocaust survivor, Hayo Meyer, has said that he is "ashamed" at the treatment of Palestinians in modern Israel.
Referring to the treatment of minorities in Britain, Carly Whyborn of the HMD Trust, declared: "Britain is not Nazi Germany in the 1930s. It is not Pol Pot's Cambodia. But on Holocaust Memorial Day we can pause to look at how we treat those around us. We can all make the choice to challenge exclusion when we see it happening – we can choose to stop using language that dehumanises others and we can stop our friends and family from dehumanising and excluding others."
Also on Ekklesia: 'Holocaust, genocide and the legacy of hope' by Carly Whyborn - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/11117