OPINION: Nation recognised debt we owe survivors to keep memory alive

OPINION: Nation recognised debt we owe survivors to keep memory alive

Olivia Marks-Woldman Holocaust Memorial Day Trust Chief Executive
Olivia Marks-Woldman Holocaust Memorial Day Trust Chief Executive

By Olivia Marks-Woldman, Chief Executive, Holocaust Memorial Day Trust14 Olivia Marks-Woldman HMDT Chief Executive landscape

Tuesday’s Holocaust Memorial Day commemorations were the culmination of more than a year’s hard work by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, and we were delighted that the UK’s commemorations were worthy of the significance of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

At the centre of everything that took place on Tuesday were the Holocaust survivors. The nation recognised their unimaginable suffering, their outstanding contribution, and the debt that we all owe to them to keep the memory alive.

One aspect of our work that I am most proud of is our Memory Makers project – a unique, creative effort to engage people with the life stories of survivors in a new way. By pairing survivors with artists, from a variety of media, we have seen results beyond our expectations. Beautiful, profound and moving pieces of artworks have been created, which offer a window into the life stories of the survivors who are featured.

Thousands of people have already engaged online to share these stories. Stunning and moving photographs of survivors have featured on large public screens in cities around the UK, and have been projected onto the Royal Festival Hall. Our 70 candles for 70 years project has also caught the attention of the public and the media.

Sir Anish Kapoor created 70 candles with a unique enclosed design, which explores the theme of memory. These candles have been lit at 70 Holocaust Memorial Day events in every corner of the UK, drawing together some of the more than 2,500 events and activities taking place this year.

Above all, my personal highlight of Holocaust Memorial Day 2015 was this year’s UK Commemorative Event.

Thanks to the BBC, this was broadcast at 7pm on BBC Two, giving everyone in the country the chance to share in our national commemoration.

The Prime Minister recognised the significance of the event by announcing the acceptance of the recommendations of the Government’s Holocaust Commission. The Prince of Wales spoke powerfully and personally about the importance of Holocaust commemoration. Most importantly, the voices of survivors, and those who were murdered, were central to every part of the ceremony.

This year’s ceremony was extraordinarily powerful. It would be impossible not to be moved by watching the testimony of survivors such as Otto Deutsch and Renee Salt. At times, the content was emotionally wrenching, even gruelling. It needed to be. It had to convey the horror of the Holocaust to an audience who might never have considered the events before.

It was clear that participants such as actress Sarah Lancashire and actors Michael Palin and John Hurt were genuinely and profoundly moved by the words they were speaking. Most affecting for me were the final thoughts of the survivors featured in the films.

Together, they encapsulate what Holocaust Memorial Day is all about.

I think it’s worth paraphrasing them here:

Otto Deutsch: Unfortunately, genocide is happening again. People haven’t learnt. That won’t stop me pleading for tolerance.

Renee Salt: For the first 50 years after liberation, we didn’t talk about it, but eventually we realised if we don’t talk about it, if we don’t tell the world, people won’t know.

Iby Knill: It’s very important that young people learn that our very differences make life rich. Under the skin, we are all the same. Every person, in their own way, can make a difference.

Kemal Pervanić: We need to take into account the lives of other people who live around us. We need to look after each other.

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