OPINION: Yom HaShoah has been sadly neglected

OPINION: Yom HaShoah has been sadly neglected

Neil Martin
Neil Martin

By Neil Martin, Chairman, Yom HaShoah UK

The Forum for Yom HaShoah UK is in year four of a five-year mission to secure greater awareness and commemoration of Yom HaShoah, the Jewish Remembrance Day for Victims of the Holocaust.

In that time there has been a palpable shift in attitude, take-up and urgency towards achieving this mission, and member organisations that span the community can be proud of the strides made thus far.

However, with all the work that has been done, for many it still doesn’t feel enough. The real underlying issues – many of which go beyond our remit and Yom HaShoah the day itself – are still being neglected.

An unexpected ally emerged in recent months when it was announced that the Prime Minister’s Holocaust Commission, chaired by Mick Davis, will investigate what further measures should be taken to ensure Britain has a permanent and fitting memorial to the Holocaust, along with sufficient educational and research resources for future generations.

While the commission’s focus is, of course, external and far broader in its reach and could easily be a tantalising distraction for some, the ‘chatter’ it has created within our own community may just have indirectly generated the vital change in inertia we at Yom HaShoah UK have been missing. Is it possible, even if an unintentional by-product, that there may now be a new communal will and verve to look in more detail at our own internal Shoah remembrance and educational needs?

After all, who better than the Prime Minister’s own coat-tails to hang on to and to ride the wave of momentum the commission has created, to finally bring a joined-up approach to our own legacy necessities for the future. As our Yom HaShoah campaign progressed, it became ever clearer that there has been a long-standing assumption among many we sought to engage that the Shoah is up there as one of ‘the big three’, alongside anti-Semitism, and Israel engagement and is ‘being taken care of’.

However, as the discussion develops and we look at what is, could and should be done, that initial assertion quickly evaporates and the realisation sets in that while the Shoah may be high on the list of collective Jewish emotive identity, it’s very low on the list in practical and tangible application for the UK Jewish community.

While it’s true to say there is a complex myriad of organisations working both inside and outside the community doing tremendous work in so many Holocaust-related areas, there has been no internal spotlight on Shoah remembrance and commemoration, which to many had become stale, nor has there been a community-wide review on new ways of teaching and engaging the next generation of our community.

Sadly, anecdotal evidence suggests much of this has simply been taken for granted. So who is (or indeed, who should be) really looking, resourcing and funding the questions and answers related to the future of remembrance, education and an age-progressive curriculum and the additional ‘hamisher’ not generic resources needed to ensure the UK Jewish community carries the experiences and lessons forward to current and future generations – where does the narrative go next for our community?

The 2012 Yom HaShoah ceremony in Hyde Park
The 2012 Yom HaShoah ceremony in Hyde Park

This is clearly something the Prime Minster has been pondering on a larger scale, when he said: “We will not always have survivors with us and there is a danger that, as the events of the Holocaust become ever more distant, they will feel increasingly remote to current and future generations”.

Surely, it’s not just Her Majesty’s Government who should be pondering the question “What, when no survivors?’’

Perhaps on Yom HaShoah, we should take some time to think about this too, not just to be heard as a Jewish voice in wider society, which is of course vital, but to look at this impending issue for our own sake and perspective, unashamedly with a focused approach towards an outcome strategy to address the direct needs of our own community now and in the future.

This Sunday, 27 April, at 11am, please join us as the Jewish community unite together for the National Yom HaShoah Commemoration Ceremony at the Holocaust Memorial in Hyde Park. Survivors, refugees, hidden children, second and third generations, synagogue bodies, schools, youth movements and organisations will be among hundreds in attendance to recite their own statement of commitment to remember the six million Jews murdered, the lost Jewish communities of Eastern Europe and the collective stories and remarkable contribution made by survivors and refugees to the Jewish and wider society.

Also, throughout the week there will be significant number of Yom HaShoah ceremonies, youth events, film-screening and lectures taking place and you can find one near you at www.yomhashoah.org.uk/events

Next year, in 2015, as we head towards what some call ‘the last of the big anniversaries’ if you talk to those directly affected by the Shoah, you can hear and feel what can only be described as a raw outcry and outpouring, pleading for the mantle of responsibility to be passed forward before it is too late and for much more to be done in ensuring the engagement of future generations of the UK Jewish community in remembrance and education.

No matter how big or small, everyone in the community can play their part in commemorating Yom HaShoah. What matters is that we all remember.

So join our campaign, light a candle at home, wear a brooch emblem, add our badge to your Facebook profile photo and proudly say “I Remember” on Yom HaShoah.

• The National Yom HaShoah Commemoration takes place this Sunday at 11am at the Holocaust Memorial in Hyde Park. You can like Yom HaShoah UK on Facebook at and follow on twitter @YomHaShoahUK #iremember

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