Holocaust Memorial Day 2022

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Holocaust Memorial Day 2022

Holocaust Memorial Day is marked each year on January 27th – the anniversary of the liberation of the concentration and death camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau. On this day, we come together to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust and of more recent genocides

Tealight candles on the black background

The Holocaust was a defining event in human history. It involved the murder of 6 million Jewish men, women and children by the Nazis and their collaborators. Although Jews were the main target, other groups were also persecuted and murdered, including Roma and Sinti people, black people, gay people, and mentally and physically disabled people. Its legacies continue to shape the modern world, while the challenging questions it raises about human behaviour have universal relevance.


The theme for this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day is One Day. There are three interpretations of this theme: loss and remembrance; hope for the future; the challenges of liberation.


One Day - Holocaust Memorial Day


First, One Day highlights issues of loss and remembrance. Before the Second World War, everyday life for Jewish people in Europe was normal. The Holocaust entailed the destruction, not only of individuals, but of the rich diversity of Jewish communities and cultures which had flourished for centuries in Europe. Shtetls, that is, small towns with a majority Jewish population, which had existed across Eastern Europe before the war, were destroyed by the Holocaust. The theme of loss and remembrance is highlighted by the following poem written by an anonymous author, entitled, The Jewish Shtetl, which is archived at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem:


The Jewish Shtetl


And once,

there was a garden,

and a child,

and a tree.


And once,

there was a father,

and a mother,

and a dog.


And once,

there was a house,

and a sister

and a grandma.


Secondly, this year’s theme explores the aspirations of Jewish people during the Holocaust – what they hoped for One Day, when their persecution was over. ‘Hope’ was a form of spiritual resistance during the Holocaust. Many poems expressing the hope to return home or the hope to travel the world were written during the Holocaust by young people who did not survive. Here are two verses from a long poem entitled, I Long for My Home, written by Leyb Rozental, a popular lyricist in the Vilna Ghetto. Leyb was murdered at Klooga Labour Camp in Estonia in 1944.


I Long for My Home


I want to see my home once more –

Are things the way they were before,

 The old worn porch, the old gnarled tree,

The roof from which the walls hung free,

My poor old home.


 Four walls, a table and a bench,

T’was here my childhood years were spent;

And here I dreamed my dreams alone,

My song of youth, my wild oats sown,

I long for home.


And below are the first two verses of a long poem entitled A Dream written by Abraham Koplowicz, who was forced into the Lodz Ghetto with his family at the age of 11. There he wrote poems about his captivity and his hopes for the future. He was sent on the last transport from Lodz to Auschwitz-Birkenau in September 1944, and murdered there, aged 14.


A Dream


When I grow up and reach the age of 20,

I’ll set out to see the enchanting world.

 I’ll take a seat in a bird with a motor;

I’ll rise and soar high into space.


I’ll fly, sail, hover

Over the lovely faraway world.

I’ll soar over rivers and oceans

Skyward shall I ascend and blossom,

A cloud my sister, the wind my brother.


These poems are archived at Yad Vashem.


There is also The Diary of Anne Frank, in which Anne expressed her hope to be a journalist or a writer when she grew up. Although she did not survive, through her diary which was published in 1947, Anne achieved the literary immortality she had hoped for.


Third, One Day, highlights that for those who were liberated, the end of the war saw many of those hopes for the future dashed. It is important to remember the challenges faced by the survivors of the Holocaust as they tried to rebuild their lives. The paragraph below is taken from the Recollections of Eva Lux Braun who was liberated from Salzwedel, a female subcamp of Neuengamme concentration camp, in 1945. She settled in the United States.


The Recollections of Eva Lux Braun


There was excitement, but our feelings were mixed. We were afraid. It's hard to describe and explain these feelings of simultaneous fear and joy. That was our next stage. Now, after liberation, what were we going to do? We had nothing. We were frightened that we might not have anyone left in the world. We needed someone to look after us and take care of us. And to a great extent I was looking after my little sister and another girl. More than anything else I wanted someone to look after me and relieve me of the burden of caring for the girls, so that I wouldn't have to be responsible, so that I would be under an adult's protection... It turned out that freedom is relative to a very great extent.


The Contemporary Relevance of the Holocaust


As well as commemorating its victims, Holocaust Memorial Day gives us the opportunity to consider the contemporary relevance of the Holocaust, which is to remind ourselves of the human capacity for unspeakable cruelty and to seek to prevent future atrocities. When we commemorate the millions of innocent lives destroyed in the Holocaust, and in the genocides that followed in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur, we resolve to take action to challenge racism, discrimination, hatred and intolerance wherever it occurs. As it is said, if we don’t learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it.


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