Day of high emotion gives me renewed hope and confidence

Olivia at last Thursday’s event in Piccadilly Circus
Olivia at last Thursday’s event in Piccadilly Circus

As Holocaust Memorial Day drew to a close last week, I was tired and emotional. I was in Piccadilly Circus, with the giant screens filled with images of Holocaust survivors, many with family members, smiling out across London.

These photos were from the Generations project, which the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust co-ordinated with Jewish News, the Royal Photographic Society and the Imperial War Museum. They are colourful and vibrant, showing resilient survivors who have rebuilt lives in the UK and contributed so much to our society. 

We in the Jewish community rightly fear the rise of antisemitism. And yes, Holocaust Memorial Day reminds everybody – of all faiths and backgrounds – where antisemitism can ultimately lead.

But paradoxically, Holocaust Memorial Day, a day full of testimony of the most appalling trauma, should give the community hope. Confidence, reassurance and hope.

Confidence that hundreds of thousands of people are engaging deeply with Holocaust Memorial Day; learning more about the past, empathising more with people today, and taking action for a better future. 

It reminds us that ideologies of identity-hatred didn’t stop after the Holocaust, and that genocides have continued after: in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. 

And as candles were lit in homes across the country, and nearly 100 landmarks
across the UK were lit up in purple, we can
be confident that the day has a place in people’s hearts.

Reassurance that each Holocaust Memorial Day event has the life experiences of people at their heart, alongside broader contextual information. 

We make sure that the voices and experiences of people who were murdered in the Holocaust and in genocides are integral to HMD events – Anne Frank, David Berger and many more are alive in classrooms and civic centres around the country. Survivors have reached millions of people through the UK Ceremony, through the media and through online events – even during the pandemic. 

Our precious Holocaust survivors can be reassured that people across the nation will carry their legacy forward. 

And hope. The images shown on those vast screens are full of colour and life. As they shone out, passers-by stopped to look; many started weeping at the contrast between the smiling faces and the short text underneath: Leo Wieder, survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Mittelbau-Dora and Bergen-Belsen camps; Mala Tribich, survivor of Ravensbrück and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps, Ruth Barnett, arrived on the Kindertransport aged four; Yvonne Bernstein, hidden in France as a child. 

The photos on the giant screens were celebrations of lives rebuilt, here in Britain. 

We live in a country in which Holocaust survivors can beam from huge screens in the centre of London and where people of all ages and backgrounds learned more, empathised more and took action. 

So, yes, I was very tired after the hard work that my colleagues at Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and I put into making sure that Holocaust Memorial Day could be marked so comprehensively. 

But I was emotional because I know that together with people across the nation, we make light in the darkness.

About the Author
Olivia is the Chief executive, Holocaust Memorial Day Trust
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