Once again we will be observing this day at the Meeting House. The Forum will be open from 11 am to 3 pm with an opportunity to reflect quietly, look at some pictures, and light a candle.
Why are we doing that? How will our remembering help us? What will it achieve?
The day originated as a commemoration of the horrific systematic killing of six million Jews by the Nazi regime in Germany and neighbouring countries. But over the years it has broadened to include other shameful atrocities. The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust calls upon people also to “remember the millions of people killed in … subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.
We need to remember too that the Nazi Holocaust itself targeted other groups such as gypsies, homosexuals, people with disabilities, religious minorities such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, and others. We can also remember the many communities and individuals who have been sacrificed to the promotion of an ideology, the ambitions and insecurities of a tyrant, or the profits of a company.
Our reason for remembering is not so that we can pick out people to blame: to do this is to miss the whole point. In the words of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, this day is “a time when we seek to learn the lessons of the past and to recognise that genocide does not just take place on its own, it’s a steady process which can begin if discrimination, racism and hatred are not checked and prevented”.
So Holocaust Remembrance Day is a time not just to remember what certain people and regimes have done, but what the human nature we all share is capable of doing. To label people and regard them as inferior is the first step towards de-humanizing them, ceasing to care about them, treating them in ways we would not normally treat human beings, and eventually wanting to “exterminate” them. Being honest about this is perhaps the first necessary step to preventing such things happening again.
But Holocaust Memorial Day can also be a time to think of the good that is in human nature and our ability to create a better world. Our different religions, and the values of many who do not have a religious faith, maintain that every human being, regardless of all the things that make us different from one another, is unique and sacred. Holocaust Memorial Day is an opportunity to remind ourselves of this and commit ourselves to expressing it in our life today. If marking Holocaust Memorial Day takes any way towards this then we’re on our way to achieving its goal.