Today is a day of solemn reflection and remembering the past. And it’s also a forward-looking day of action and of concern for tomorrow.
Today Uyghur Muslims in China are facing state-sponsored persecution. They are torn from their families, brutally forced to give up their culture and faith, imprisoned in camps, shaved, shackled, loaded onto trains, beaten, tortured, sterilised and denied all basic dignity and rights. Although there are many differences between the Holocaust and the current situation facing Uyghur Muslims, there are parallels too. On Holocaust Memorial Day, the warning from the past should ring loudly in our collective consciousness. We must use our voices and personal experiences of the Holocaust to stand up for Uyghur Muslims.
Because if not today, then when? And as a people who know all too well what it’s like to be hated and persecuted for who we are, we surely simply can’t afford to look away.
In just a few days, Beijing will dazzle with the glamour of the Winter Olympic Games. The horrific plight and suffering of the Uyghurs, in the meantime, continues – in the same country. In 1936, the world turned a blind eye to the ‘Aryans only’ policy across all Nazi German athletic organisations. And while a boycott was proposed by many in Western countries, it never materialised and the opportunity was missed.
Today, our government – together with the US and Canada – is holding a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing games. This diplomatic boycott makes a point and sends a message; that in and of itself is powerful. We only have to think: what if the international community actually managed to boycott the 1936 Olympics? Would this have any effect on the tragic events we commemorate today?
And what can we do as individuals to speak up for the Uyghurs? Well, firstly, we can simply educate ourselves – make sure we don’t forget the pain of the Uyghur people as we carry on with our busy lives. We can tell our children and continue teaching them empathy and showing concern for others. We can write to our MPs. We can personally boycott the Olympics – I, for one, will not be watching. We can organise events – Holocaust survivors often speak up about the treatment of the Uyghurs – to create opportunities for others to learn. The Jewish News regularly feature this on their cover, with headlines like ‘We are with you’, ‘Don’t be silent’ and ‘Chilling echoes’. We can all use the platforms, talents and opportunities that we have – big or small – to be allies to Uyghur Muslims today.
Today is Holocaust Memorial Day. One very simple action we can all do, today, is light the darkness. At 8pm, candles will be glowing in windows across the country and iconic buildings will light up in purple. These candles will be flames of remembrance for the six million Jewish people murdered in the Holocaust, millions murdered under Nazi persecution and recent genocides. And they will be flames of solidarity with people today who face prejudice for who they are. Your neighbours might ask you about your candle – tell them about the plight of the Uyghur people.
- The U.K. 2022 Holocaust Memorial Day Ceremony will be broadcast online at 7pm on 27 January on hmd.org.uk