Holocaust Memorial Day

Below is a kind and courageous Chapel Address by Jack (Year 11) on Holocaust Memorial Day

Holocaust Memorial Day takes place on 27 January and is the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp located in southern Poland.  

This day remembers the six million Jews who were murdered by the Nazi state during the Holocaust. Also remembered are the millions of other people who were murdered under Nazi Persecution and in genocides that followed in Cambodia in the 1970s, Rwanda in 1994, Bosnia in 1995. 

The Holocaust is perhaps the darkest chapter in human history. Nazi Persecution is thought to be responsible for the death of 12 million people. 

From the time the Nazis assumed power in Germany in 1933, they used propaganda, persecution and legislation to deny human and civil rights to German Jews. They used centuries of antisemitism as their foundation. With the outbreak of World War II, the Nazis subjected Jews in Poland, and other occupied countries, to violence and forced labour forcing them into ghettos.  

In 1941, ‘The Final Solution’ policy was adopted to systematic murder of all the Jews in Europe, at concentration and extermination camps. Roma gypsies, gay and disabled people, as well as Black and mixed-race people were also persecuted and killed. 

Survivor stories  

In 2020, the BBC aired the film The Windermere Children, which tells the story of a group of Jewish child refugees taken to lake Windemere to be rehabilitated after their horrifying experiences of the Holocaust during which Many Jewish people were taken straight from ghettos and packed into trucks and trains to be transported to death camps. For many families, once separated, this would be the last they would see of each other. 

One refugee boy recalled: ‘German soldiers came in and said to my father: “Come on, I want your son.” and my father begged with them to take him, because I’m only a little boy. They tore me out from my father’s arm and took me away. This moment I will never, never forget.’

Another boy talks about his experience with the rehabilitation centre, explaining how: ‘you get in and there was a bed, and sheets, cushions and blankets to cover yourself with. We just put our heads down, we fell asleep, and we slept and we slept.’ 

As a pupil at Charterhouse, many years after the Holocaust, you may wonder why this day has such importance to me. My own grandfather ran away to the East when the Nazis invaded his home in Poland. He spent the war in the USSR only to return to Poland after the war to discover not one member of his family had survived. He emigrated to Canada and never spoke about his feelings or his loss.  

Genocide 

For many of us, wars and genocides are something we study as part of history, something in the past. We gather today to take time to reflect on the horrors that modern man is capable of inflicting on their neighbours – not just in the past, in faraway places but in our grandparents’ and parents’ lifetimes in Europe, and recently in our own lifetimes.  

The 20th century was an unprecedented period of slaughter in history with more than a hundred million people slaughtered in genocides all over the world.   

In addition to the 12 million killed by the Nazis, the 20th century saw more than 50 million people slaughtered in China, more than 20 million in Russia, 8 million in Congo, 5 million by the Japanese in WW2, 1.2 million Armenians, 1.7 million Cambodians, 1.6 million North Koreans, 1.5 million Ethiopians along with countless others including Slavs, Angolans, Afghans, Ugandans and Pakistanis. 

While this level of death and suffering has made the world determined to prevent and stop the killing, in this century genocide continues. In Darfur in 2003, over 3 million people were targeted with as many as 500,000 deaths. Recently, in 2016, racially motivated actions in Myanmar, which are ongoing, have led to 700,000 Muslim refugees with more than 25,000 deaths. 

On this day, it is important to understand that Genocide does not happen overnight, in faraway times and places. It can start in modern societies, starting with small steps imposing on peoples’ freedoms and liberties; in public sentiments that focus on differences in people rather than their similarities. Remembering what has been done helps remind us of the importance of respect and tolerance.