Leaders of Britain’s main political parties and the Mayor of London were among those commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day early this week, writes Justin Cohen, as the country geared up to honour the millions who perished at the hands of the Nazis and in later genocides.
More than 2,000 events will be held at schools, synagogues, councils and community centres across the UK on and around the 69th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz on Monday. The day will begin with the lighting of a candle by a senior Government minister and survivor-turned-Olympian Ben Helfgott at King’s Cross Station.
The UK’s centrepiece event, organised by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, will take place in central London later that day, in the presence of politicians and religious leaders.
HMDT chief executive Olivia Marks-Woldman said: “This year’s events are linked by the theme of Journeys. The public will be invited to sign luggage tags, pledging to ‘take a step’ for Holocaust Memorial Day. In London, these will be collected at King’s Cross station and then displayed at the UK Commemorative Event in the afternoon.”
Ed Miliband, whose parents fled occupied Europe, was the first of the three main party leaders to sign the Holocaust Educational Trust’s Book of Commitment, enabling MPs and peers to pledge to tackle prejudice.
He wrote: “It is vital we remember the terrible acts of the Holocaust – and the hatred and evil it represented. And we should also remember the goodness, the acts of courage, the compassion of those who saved lives.”
Nick Clegg also signed the book and David Cameron will sign it on Monday.
Barnet Council’s ceremony at Middlesex University last Sunday explored the many forced journeys characterising the Holocaust and subsequent genocides; from journeys ending in death to journeys of escape to new lives. Event speakers included Kindertransport evacuee Lord Dubs.
Guests at City Hall the next day heard from Dutch-born survivor Steven Frank, who was held at several camps before being liberated aged 10 by the Russian Army in 1945, and Sophie Masereka, who witnessed the murder of her parents, brothers, sisters and neighbours in the Rwandan genocide 20 years ago (pictured together below).
The London Assembly’s ceremony featured a moving reading from Mayor Boris Johnson, who said: “It is vitally important we never forget and that we continue to learn from one of the most shameful periods in history.”
At the London Jewish Cultural Centre today, ambassadors from Portugal and Japan will tell an audience, including actor Tom Conti, how individual diplomats worked to save Jews. Also attending the event – which will include a performance from the Kerem School choir – will be the envoys of Poland and Romania.