Just remembering is not enough in this climate

Remembering is not enough, when people today are rejected because of their ethnicity, gender or belief. This is my view as I sit reflecting on the National Holocaust Centre and Museum’s 20th anniversary and the continuing need for Holocaust education today.

I could not have imagined 20 years ago when the National Holocaust Centre was founded that its work would be celebrated at Westminster Abbey, at a special service of thanksgiving and recommitment to mark the centre’s anniversary.

Nor could I have imagined the continued pressing need for the work of the centre, not only to keep the memory alive but to apply what we learn from that history to our world today.

We see as clearly as ever the importance to remember the centuries of anti-Semitism. But remembering alone is simply not enough when hatred of Jews persists.

It is important to remember mass murder grew from an idea: that Jews do not belong to the nation. But again, remembering is not enough, when people today are rejected because of their ethnicity, gender or belief.

It is important to remember how the world failed to shelter Jews fleeing the gathering storm. But remembering is not enough when leaders of nations today provide no place of safety for 60 million human beings displaced from their homes.

It is important to remember the six million Jewish men women and children whose beauty and life were brutally extinguished during the Holocaust. But remembering is not enough when, after the Holocaust, millions face death because of who they are or what they believe.

The gravity of the Holocaust is such that it will not be diminished when compared with other events of genocide. The greater danger is that our own humanity is diminished if we close our hearts to those at risk of destruction today: Yezidi and Mandaeans in Iraq, Hazaras in Afghanistan, Rohingya in Burma and many more.

Racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia, antiziganism; none of this began, or ended, with the Nazis.

If the unfounded fears and downright lies about the Jewish people, gypsies and others in the 1920s and 30s had been replaced by trust and empathy, the ground would not have been fertile, by the 1940s, for genocide.

I learned personally last month about the crushing impact of racism as my 11-year-old daughter was brushed aside by an older pupil because, in his eyes, she was a ‘nigger’.

However much hatred hurts, thankfully today in the UK racism is not government policy, nor is it legalised or encouraged in schools.

However this does not lessen the worry that across the free world today many who have perhaps kept prejudicial thoughts to themselves in the past, increasingly feel it is legitimate to inflict such poison on others.

The National Holocaust Centre and the Aegis Trust (which was born from the centre’s work and builds peace through education internationally in communities at risk of mass atrocities) are alive to the fact that the challenges over the next 20 years, here in England and around the globe, have never been greater.

There is also hope. Holocaust education, and work in other fields promoting understanding, can help to foster values of empathy, acceptance and personal responsibility. Remembrance of the tragic past can encourage us all to be ‘up-standers’, rather than stand by whenever – and wherever – we see injustice.
At Westminster Abbey last month, it was inspiring to see hundreds of people including, poignantly, representatives from three faiths, recommit themselves to this vital work; recommitting to help to create more inclusive and understanding societies.

This commitment, and the commitment to educating future generations, is vital to counter the threat of violence. However, our efforts must be scaled-up to engage young people and to combat fear and prejudice; to ensure that many more will come to remember the horrific crimes against the Jewish people and to play their part in understanding and acceptance.

It is uplifting to see every day how children at the National Holocaust Centre are moved and empowered by what they have learnt.

By giving a chance for future generations to understand more, think more, care more gives dignity and meaning to remembrance, and will contribute to a fairer, safer world for our

About the Author
James Smith is president, the UK's National Holocaust Centre and Museum
Related Topics
Related Posts