More than 20,000 watch virtual Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration
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More than 20,000 watch virtual Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration

Chief Rabbi gives warning about 'dangerous winds of persecution' after the pandemic at event attended by the Prime Minister and featuring a message from Prince Charles

Prince Charles speaking during the Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony 2021
Prince Charles speaking during the Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony 2021

The Chief Rabbi last night warned of “dangerous winds of persecution” in a “post-Covid era” during a moving virtual ceremony to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day.

Over 20,000 people tuned into the first ever online event marking 76 years to the day since Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated.

Senior politicians including Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, lit candles and read a poem during the ceremony.

Chief Rabbi Emphraim Mirvis said: “Today we recall how the light of humanity, decency and compassion was extinguished when darkness descended upon the earth. The tragedy was deepened by the darkness of indifference.

“But there were glimmers of light- extraordinary people risked their lives to secretly save Jews, while resistance fighter courageously fought back despite unimaginable pressure. There were also glimmers of light during the subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.”

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis

The hour-long ceremony was presented by broadcaster Naga Munchetty, who emphasised the ongoing need to “stand against the hostility, division and prejudice which is still happening today.”

Rabbi Mirvis added: “Darkness can only endure where we fail to shine a light as can tragically be seen around the globe now. In addition, the post Covid era will bring with it upheaval, creating conditions which can precipitate dangerous winds of persecution.”

As well as three Holocaust survivors, attendees also heard from survivors of genocide in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.

A Tutsi survivor, Alphonsine Kabagabo, told viewers: “Nothing can bring back the members of my family who were killed during the genocide against the Tutsi in 1994, but knowing that every year people come together to remember them and to learn from their fate, makes me feel better.”

Nicola Sturgeon, Boris Johnson, Keir Starmer and Imam Qari Asim

Representing the Royal Family, HRH Prince Charles said: “As I speak, the last generation of living witnesses is tragically passing from this world, so the task of bearing witness falls to us.

“This is not a task for one time only; nor is it a task for one generation, or one person. It is for all people, all generations, and all time. This is our time when we can, each in our own way, be the light that ensure the darkness can never return.”

This year’s theme was ‘Be the light in the darkness’, which encouraged reflection on the depths humanity could sink to but also the ways individuals and communities resisted that darkness to ‘be the light’ before, during and after genocide.

HRH The Prince of Wales added: “We have also seen reckless assaults on the truth and the deeply worrying growth of fake news and of irrational theories, not grounded in reality but rooted in dark places of hatred and fear.

“We have seen reason rejected, objectivity abandoned, history discounted – even the Holocaust denied.”

Viewers also heard moving musical renditions by the Chineke! Chamber ensemble, the first professional orchestra in Europe to be made up of majority black, Asian and ethnically diverse musicians.

Attendees were encouraged to join the commemoration by lighting a candle in their own home.

Elsewhere, national landmarks across Britain, including Wembley Stadium and Cardiff Castle were bathed in purple light at 8pm.

Pre-recorded messages from the likes of Premier League footballers Jordan Henderson and Bruno Fernandes, plus contributions from religious leaders, key workers and celebrity adventurer Bear Grylls all featured in the online service.

Prior to the ceremony, the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust displayed photos from their youth photograph exhibition, Light up the darkness. To view these images click here.

Watch highlights of the ceremony here

 

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