In the corona age, Holocaust memory has never been so important

Scott at the front of the March of the Living in 2017. (Jewish News - Sam Churchill Photography)
Scott at the front of the March of the Living in 2017. (Jewish News - Sam Churchill Photography)

Each year for the past decade, the day after the Jewish holiday of Passover, I have caught the early flight to Warsaw. Each year for the past decade on Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day in the Jewish calendar, I have had the privilege of leading the UK delegation of March of the Living. This unique event takes 10,000 participants from across the world, Jewish and non-Jewish, through the infamous gates at Auschwitz to walk the 3km to Birkenau, in tribute to the darkest days not only of the Jewish people, but indeed humanity.

This year will be different. This year I won’t have the honour of walking at the head of the 350 participants who were to make up the largest ever UK delegation. Due to the Coronavirus crisis, for the first time since its inception in 1988, March of the Living has taken the obvious and correct decision to postpone this powerful journey. Yet at the same time, its message has perhaps never been more relevant.

The world is facing an unprecedented challenge, which will test us in so many ways. Sadly, history has taught us that a global crisis invariably brings intensified fear of ‘the other’ and with it an increase in hate crimes. 

We have seen that even in this tragic time of Coronavirus, precisely when the world needs to stand together, anti-Semitism is alive and thriving. Online meetings aimed at bringing Jewish communities together have become targets where vile anti-Jewish posts and imagery have been disseminated. In the United States, France and beyond, we have seen crude age-old anti-Semitic tropes used to blame Jews for Coronavirus itself. Unfortunately, it seems that amid the destruction caused by COVID-19, it has not stemmed the recent rise in global anti-Semitism.

However, the Holocaust provides a stark universal message. It is the most horrific reminder of what can happen when hatred towards any community goes unchecked. Since the Coronavirus outbreak began, there have been attacks on other minority groups, most recently on our Chinese communities. Ultimately, Coronavirus does not discriminate between nationality, ethnicity, religious belief or background. Yet, it is being used as an excuse to sow division, encourage discrimination and foster racism.  

It is our collective responsibility to stand firm against any form of hatred and especially now, to educate younger generations. For inspiration, we need look no further than the Holocaust survivors who each year accompany the March of the Living. They are the very best, the most dignified examples of how to respect one another as human beings. Above all perhaps, they embody the ability to overcome extreme adversity, to build a future from the depths of despair. It is a timeless message, but one which resonates particularly powerfully today. We are the privileged few who still get to hear their stories.

Since 1945 there have been countless genocides, millions of people across the world have been murdered, tortured and persecuted, simply for being who they were or believing what they believed in. The phrase “Never Again” has been used time and again and yet since the Holocaust, massacres in Cambodia, Rwanda, Darfur, Srebrenica and beyond have become stains on humanity. We still see hate crimes across the world today. Churches, Mosques and Synagogues have all been the target of attacks and despite condemnation from political leaders, hatred continues to grow.

In this time of fear and anxiety, we must unite as a society, indeed as an international community. We must appreciate that we have more in common and we must reject those that seek to divide us. We must respect our differences not belittle them. In this, the Holocaust remains the ultimate lesson. So, as we approach Yom Hashoah, with the world embroiled in this terrible pandemic, it falls to each and every one of us to stand up and state loudly – Never Means Never. No more anti-Semitism, no more Islamophobia, no more Homophobia, no more racism, no more hatred. Now more than ever.

About the Author
Scott Saunders, Founder & Chairman March of the Living UK
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