Be the light in the darkness on Holocaust Memorial Day

Posted On 27 Jan 2021 at 12:01 am

On Holocaust Memorial Day we remember the six million Jews, the tens of thousands of disabled, Gypsy-Roma, LGBTQIA+ persons and many others who were murdered under the Nazi regime.

Each year when we remember, we cannot fail to be profoundly moved by the testimonies of the survivors, now sadly dwindling, nor be utterly horrified by the haunting images on the newsreels of the time.

The liberation of Auschwitz, and other concentration camps was 76 years ago this year, a lifetime for many of us, yet of course so vividly remembered by the survivors.

My late mother was aged 19 when WWII ended. Throughout my growing-up I was told a great deal about life on the home front in London and her experiences were powerfully ingrained in me.

As a child I was taken to an event and exhibition held by some survivors of Auschwitz. What I saw that day made a deep and lasting impression on me but in particular the memorial to the children.

I remember too when she told me about the reaction to the very first BBC report made by Richard Dimbleby to the nation in 1945 at the relief of Belsen, a profoundly powerful and at times hard report to listen to.

She said that the public were so numbed, indeed so horrified at what they had seen and heard, that not a soul spoke on her journey to work the next morning. A numbness simply hung in the air.

What we now know of course, is that millions of victims were murdered in those camps, and they suffered unspeakable brutality and fear. Human rights were non-existent.

A number on the arm marked people and cruelty and mass murder was conducted on an inconceivably industrial scale.

The total dehumanisation of each individual seemed then – as now – totally incomprehensible.

Back in 1945 people said, “this must never happen again.” Yet there have been genocides since – in Rwanda, Darfur and Bosnia – and importantly by remembering the holocaust and these subsequent atrocities we connect the injustices of the past with what we must not allow to happen in our present.

Indeed, the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust asks us to “learn from genocide – for a better future”.

Hatred and intolerance are sadly very much evident today all around the world. Holocaust Memorial Day poignantly reminds us all that hatred can lead to the very worst of humankind – to dehumanise, and to murder.

Here in Brighton and Hove I am very proud of our diversity, of our warm welcome to newcomers and of the work that so many in the community do with Brighton and Hove City Council, Sussex Police and others in making our communities inclusive.

The work that is being undertaken to form the anti-racist strategy and in tackling anti-Semitism will, I hope, set a blueprint for both the city and the council for many years to come.

My hope too is that it will send a strong message stating that Brighton and Hove is indeed a City of Sanctuary where all are warmly welcomed and where we will speak out against hate wherever we find it.

We will always mark Holocaust Memorial Day. We must always be appalled at what happened and we must continue to work together to ensure that it never happens again.

This year the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust asks us to “be the light in the darkness” and to consider the ways that we as individuals can shine a light on persecution, hold those responsible to account and speak out against hate and mistruths.

While we cannot meet in person to remember, many online ceremonies to mark Holocaust Memorial Day will take place today – Wednesday 27 January – to offer us an opportunity to reflect and commemorate together.

Nationally, the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust will hold their first digital ceremony that you can join online here.

Locally, a special one-hour programme will be live-streamed by Latest TV at 2pm and 6pm today (Wednesday 27 January) on their website.

Steph Powell is a Green councillor and chairs Brighton and Hove City Council’s Tourism, Equalities Communities and Culture Committee.

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