British Jews currently have two main days on which we commemorate the Holocaust. Since 2014, Holocaust Memorial Day has been observed in 12 European countries on 27 January – the date marking the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
I am part of a venture that started in Northwood and is now reproduced elsewhere that has seen the Liberal and Orthodox synagogues work jointly in producing an annual commemoration of the day for the local community.
This year the Northwood programme lasted for two weeks and saw more than 3,000 secondary school pupils of all faiths and none come for a two-and-a-half hour seminar. They heard the testimony of a Holocaust survivor and engaged in structured workshops on learning from the past and combating prejudice and racism now and in future.
The Shoah may have dominated the session, but later genocides in Rwanda, Cambodia, Darfur and Bosnia were covered, as well as the murder in the Holocaust of gypsies, gays and others the Nazis hated. Many synagogues have also marked Srebrenica Day, with visits to Bosnia by rabbis, priests and imams.
The other day we commemorate is Yom HaShoah, established in 1959 by the Israeli Knesset as the official day of memorial for the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust.
Other days of remembrance like Tisha B’av have been suggested, but the Israeli government realised the Shoah was unique and needed a dedicated day of its own.
As more and more facts have emerged and personal stories told, it is clear commemorating the Shoah and the murder of the Jews is as necessary now as in 1945 and 1959. There is surely nothing wrong in Jews remembering their own people who were victims of irrational hatred and anti-Semitism. And as recent events show, such memory must sadly lead us to greater vigilance at this moment.
However, this also does not stop Jews joining others remembering the suffering of other peoples, as we do on national Holocaust Memorial Day.
The two work well together in helping to share a message of tolerance and understanding, in our own communities and beyond.
- Rabbi Dr Andrew Goldstein is president of Liberal Judaism