On January 27th schools, universities and local communities throughout the country are marking Britain’s annual Holocaust Memorial Day, remembering the millions of victims murdered by the Nazi regime during the Holocaust - Jews, disabled people, Roma and Sinti (Gypsies), gays, blacks, political opponents and Slavs; those affected by more recent genocides such as that in Rwanda and Bosnia, and those discriminated against today. January 27th marks the anniversary of the liberation in 1945 of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the infamous concentration and extermination camp. It is the seventh year that the anniversary has been officially commemorated in the UK.
As a young child growing up in Newham, my childhood was heavily influenced by the experiences of East Enders during the war years. My parents told me stories of the heavy air raids that devastated our part of London, and how people preferred to shelter under the railway viaducts than use the underground shelters. My Mum’s stories of years spent as an evacuee away from her family in Wales painted a vivid picture of those difficult years.
The discovery of the Nazi death camps was another event that stood out in my parents’ memories of the war years. The world was shocked at the scale and cruelty of the Final Solution, and it struck a particular chord in the East End, which at the time had a large Jewish population.
I was personally introduced to the full extent of the Holocaust at the age of eleven, in my final year at JuniorSchool. My Mum and Dad also tried their best to ensure that I knew and fully understood the horror of the truly darkest chapter of Europe’s history, in the hope that I would recognize the dangers of fascism and the evil it unleashes. In my twenties my Grandad told me stories of battling Mosley’s fascists at Earls Court, and of getting arrested by the coppers as a result.
As a person who was brought up to recognize the evils of fascism and who grew up in an area of tradition, it is really difficult for me to understand that some of our youngsters are growing up with little knowledge of what the Holocaust really meant. They cannot understand the devastating, brutal and industrialized nature of the Nazi killing machine. The lessons of the Holocaust can influence the attitudes and behaviour of people young and old. It is vital we remember the appalling consequences of where anti-Semitism, racism and discrimination can lead if not challenged. The Holocaust is part of British history, it is relevant to everyone today and it offers important lessons for us as British citizens in the 21st Century. We have a shared responsibility to fight against discrimination and to help foster a more just, tolerant and multicultural Britain.
I think the lessons of the Holocaust are so valuable, and remain so relevant today. As a result, I am attempting to raise funding from local businesses to fund a school visit to Auschwitz. With the help of the Holocaust Educational Trust, who have been educating young people and adults about the horrors of the Holocaust for many years, I hope that our local kids will be able to appreciate at first-hand the scale and the inhumanity of the Nazi death camps, and that they will be encouraged to keep the anti-fascist traditions of the East End alive.