By Max SHERRARD, President of Leeds J-Soc.
Monday the 27th of January was International Holocaust Memorial Day and the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkeneau. For Leeds J-Soc this was our first event of the New Year and also the first event for the new committee.
In it we noticed something quite extraordinary – the importance of this day and more importantly, the growing indifference towards Holocaust remembrance.
In Leeds we were fortunate to have Holocaust Survivor Hannah Lewis come and speak to the University. The talk was open to the entire University, with over 170 people attending.
Hannah’s story is one of horror, suffering and hope, a story which deeply affected every student that came. She spoke of the suffering of her family, how she witnessed her mother brutally murdered and how, years later, she went back to the same spot and confronted her past. I had never seen a room full of students so captivated by any speaker.
She captured the mood of the day perfectly and I am truly honoured to have had the chance to hear her talk.
We also erected a stall within the Student Union building. There we spoke to members of the student body, engaging in Holocaust remembrance and giving information about the Holocaust and other genocides such as Darfur and Rwanda.
Throughout the day we noticed various things about the way that the student body interacted with the subject of the Holocaust.
Firstly there was vast support from many people in the University. The student union staff were extremely cooperative in the organisation of the event, enabling us to reach out to such a vast network. The Leeds University social media was buzzing with tweets, posts and updates on the day’s event.
Many students who approached the stall were increasingly engaging and wanting to learn more, while most had never had exposure to Holocaust education before and this was the first time they had really been given an opportunity to think and reflect on the subject.
On the other hand we noticed some very apathetic, negative, and ignorant attitudes of students regard to the Holocaust. When we were walking around outside the Union, handing out flyers, many people just walked passed us. We would say “by any chance are you aware that today is International Holocaust Memorial Day?” and people would just mumble excuses, or ignore us, and walk away.
Leaflets were dumped on the ground or in the bin and there was a general lack of interest or care from some people.
Yet the one stand-out part of the day was the fact that J-Soc was the only society that had organised anything on Holocaust Memorial Day. I-Soc ( The university’s Islamic Society) had organised a speaker about Islamic Righteous Amongst the Gentiles, and History Society had a session on Auschwitz and people who led organised trips, yet no one else organised something for the University as a whole.
We were the only presence in the Student Union, we enabled students to listen to and meet a Holocaust survivor, and it was us who made Holocaust Memorial Day an event in the University of Leeds.
British Jews need to be leading the cause for Holocaust remembrance in the UK. As Jews, part of our historical identity is to remember, to “Never Forget”. Many of our festivals are about remembering our past: Purim, Chanukah, Pesach to name a few.
Jewish tradition is steeped in remembering, honouring and reflecting on our past. Yet on Holocaust Memorial day how many people facilitated the remembrance of the Holocaust?
Granted we have Yom HaShoa – a day for Jewish Holocaust remembrance, yet International Holocaust Memorial day is one that is recognised by the entire world. We should be taking this opportunity to show the world that we remember and so should they. Most people who we came across didn’t know that it was Holocaust Memorial Day or even that there was a day to remember it.
I am proud to be a part of those who have organised Holocaust remembrance in the country and I applaud those who have done the same.
As we noticed in Leeds, the numbers who remember the Holocaust are diminishing at an alarming rate so we urge you to stand up to indifference and help others to remember and continue our age old promise to “Never Forget“. [divider]
Max Sherrard is the newly elected President of Leeds J-Soc. There are close to 1000 Jewish students currently studying at Leeds. Many of them, regardless of their religious affiliation, engage with their Jewish identities by joining the university J-Soc. Student-leaders like Max help to facilitate activities to suit all members, from religiously-themed lunch and learns to Friday Night Dinners, guest speakers from all denominations, debates, parties, sports events and much, much more.
You can find out more information about Leeds Jewish Society at http://www.ujs.org.uk/jsocs/view/261/leeds-university/ or connect with them on Twitter.