This evening you may have noticed lit candles flickering on windowsills of the homes that you passed. On Holocaust Memorial Day, these candles will have been lit from 4pm to remember those murdered in the World War II holocaust, and sadly the many genocides that have occurred since.
The theme of Holocaust Memorial Day 2023 is Ordinary People. What strikes us when we hear the testimony of those touched by the Holocaust is that the vast majority of those involved are simply Ordinary People. Genocide is facilitated by ordinary people. Ordinary people turn a blind eye, believe propaganda, join murderous regimes. And those who are persecuted, oppressed and murdered in genocide aren’t persecuted because of crimes they’ve committed – they are persecuted simply because they are ordinary people who belong to a particular group such as an ethnic group.
Ordinary people were involved in all aspects of the Holocaust and in the genocides that took place in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. Ordinary people were perpetrators, bystanders, rescuers, witnesses – and ordinary people were victims.
There are also extraordinary people in every genocide, remarkable and unusual people, who go to extreme lengths to help, to rescue, to save, and in every genocide there are extraordinary people, who go to extreme depths to cause harm.
I was unable to attend today’s Holocaust Memorial Day event at the Town Hall but I was able to join the webcast of the Cross-Government event taking place at Downing Street today. I understand that thousands of people logged into this event. We were fortunate to hear from Safet Vukalic who I previously heard speak at a Holocaust Memorial Day event in Croydon in January 2020. He told his story today from a slightly different angle and it touched me very much. He tells his story in an extremely relatable way and as a mother of children of a similar age to Safet when he was in Bosnia, I find his story particularly thought provoking. We than heard from Manfred Goldberg who was just 11 years old when he was taken to the Riga ghetto and was then moved from camp to camp, experiencing horror upon horror.
With war happening in Europe now, these stories are very current. There will be people in Ukraine, including many children, who will have experienced and seen horrific events. So this evening a candle is lit on my windowsill to remember those who have experienced the horrors of the past, and in hope that those who have the power to influence the situation in Ukraine will do so quickly.