Be the Light in the Darkness

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day, each year seemingly less prominent as fewer survivors are still with us, still marked with the customary parliamentary debate.

We call to mind the horrific and inhuman images of Nazi concentration camps and our revulsion is undiminished.

We hang our heads in shame that on our watch, the ‘never again’ message that rang out so clearly after the Second World War dimmed and did not prevent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.

Individual stories of courage, defiance and survival in the face of such evil continue to inspire.

I was moved to hear again of the courage and martyrdom of Sophie and Hans Scholl and their student resistance White Rose Movement in a radio programme at the weekend.

Their belief in the responsibility of ordinary citizens to take action, touches to the very heart of why it’s important to keep the Holocaust memory alive, even in our comfortable Salisbury backwater.

My father, a Kindertransport refugee, talked about the death of his own father on the infamous Krystalnacht (Night of Broken Glass) in November 1938 in Vienna.

Like so many others, he was seized by his neighbours and died later that evening in police custody, supposedly of a heart attack, a victim of prejudice and discrimination.

His ‘crime’; to be in a mixed marriage to my Catholic grandmother (who later escaped to join her son in England).

What he found disturbing, as do other victims of such atrocities, was that the neighbours among whom they lived, ordinary people like themselves, turned from being their friends into their persecutors.

Be the Light in the Darkness is this year’s Memorial theme.

Before every genocide, perpetrators divide society into those worthy of human treatment and those who are not.

Distortions, lies, falsehoods, ‘fake news’ feed propaganda that identifies and victimises different groups; discrimination follows, often enshrined in law; once the Rubicon is crossed, the die is set.

While for victims, the fear, hopelessness and dread that begins in those early stages is profound and long-lasting; and can persist across generations.

This year, we are challenged to become lights in our own communities; to confront denial, distortion and ‘fake news’.

Unsurprisingly, the rise of nationalism in the UK, characteristic of Brexit, has led to an increase in hate crime and anti-Semitism.

Handfuls of refugees seeking asylum in the UK were portrayed as a mass about to overwhelm us. Our elected representatives voted to remove the provision for unaccompanied children (some of whom, like my father, will be in shock at the recent violent loss of their parents) to join relatives in this country. Shameful!

Holocaust Memorial Day gives purpose to our remembering.

Each of us carries a responsibility to work for a safer, better, future for all.

Everyone can step up to tackle prejudice, discrimination and intolerance wherever we encounter them.

We know what happens when we don’t.