12 May 2011

Holocaust Memorial events

We have just marked Yom HaShoah which is the day dedicated by the Israeli Government in 1955 to remembering the victims of the Holocaust. The law passed is called the Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day Law 1959 and the date chosen in the Jewish Calendar was 27 Nissan which marks the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943.

This year Yom HaShoah fell on 1 and 2 May 2011 – like all days in the Jewish Calendar it started at sunset on the night before and ended at sunset the next day. Remember Genesis 1.13 ‘And the evening and the morning were the third day.’

The legislation, signed by David Ben-Gurion who was Israel’s first Prime Minister, is very explicit about how the day is to be marked:

2.Remembrance Day shall be marked throughout the State by a two minute silence, during which all work and all road traffic shall be suspended; there will be memorial gatherings, popular rallies and commemorative functions in Army camps and educational institutions; flags  on public buildings shall be flown at half-mast; wireless programmes shall express the special character of the day and places of entertainment shall present only features resonant with its spirit.

This day should not be confused with Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) which occurs on 27 January, the anniversary of the liberation of the major Nazi extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1945. HMD has been marked in the UK since 2001.The United Nations voted to commemorate HMD in 2004 and the day has increasing widespread recognition. (See link on Camp Liberations http://www.hmd.org.uk/news/item/liberation-of-nazi-concentration-camps)

The former MP for Finchley, Andrew Dismore, led the introduction of the Bill to create HMD in the House of Commons. There was a consultation period in late 1999. I recall him coming to speak to the Board of Deputies at that time to explain the reasons for creating HMD. I was concerned about Holocaust fatigue and the dangers of HMD degenerating over time into trite and disrespectful activities which would not do justice to the millions of victims of the Nazis and raised this issue with him. The link for the October 1999 consultation document is:


Since 2004 I have been a trustee of the HMDT and have been involved in the drafting of many of the annual themes but the views expressed here are my personal views.

Candle ImageMy concerns about Holocaust fatigue have, I believe, been misplaced. However what does concern me is a lack of selectiveness in some events. A carpet bag approach where more is always seen as better and as much as possible is rammed into an event. I do feel a careful selection of a few choice items has far more impact and truly ‘less’ can be ‘more’. Ideally, people should come away with a few ideas and thoughts to reflect on in the days ahead. Not leaving a two hour plus marathon feeling relief that it is over at last or as a young boy said behind me to his chum ‘It’s very boring isn’t it?’ That boy obviously had no feeling of involvement or understanding that 1.5 million Jewish children were murdered by the Nazis.

It is particularly important that any young people who are involved are properly briefed in advance and given a chance to rehearse in the venue. I admit to having a hearing problem but I have been to many events where youngsters have gabbled and their words could not be understood. Its also been apparent that they have no real understanding of what they are reading. It is not their fault. Public speaking is not a skill that most people are born with and they will also be very nervous. Its not fair on them if they are not helped to make a significant and meaningful contribution. That is the only way that the victims of the Nazis can be appropriately remembered with dignity. In this way the youngsters can truly learn the lessons of the Holocaust and pass the message on.

Organisers have a duty to ensure that everyone including the audience at any event has a role to play as well as the participants and speakers. – organisers have a responsibility to inform others how they wish them to behave, for example in their dress as well as their actions – no texting. Finally, perhaps my background makes me unduly sensitive about this subject. However I do find it really offensive to hear Holocaust survivors becoming distressed whilst talking about extreme hunger or watching others literally starving to death and see people in the audience chewing gum often with their mouths open. When I talk to youngsters I always ask them to refrain from chewing or drinking whilst I am talking as it is not appropriate given the subject matter. Again it is a matter of respect to those whose sufferings we are commemorating and that is what these memorial events are all about.