Writer Eloise Bishop discusses the theme of this year's Holocaust Memorial Day and reflects poignantly on her own visit to Auschwitz.
I first visited the former Nazi concentration and death camp, Auschwitz, nearly three years ago as part of the Holocaust Educational Trust’s Lesson From Auschwitz project. The project aims to increase young people’s understanding and knowledge of the Holocaust, and it was one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had. I have since become a Regional Ambassador with the Trust, promoting their work and continuing to raise awareness.
Holocaust Memorial Day takes place each year on 27 January. On this day, communities around the world remember and commemorate the Holocaust, alongside subsequent genocides. It is the day that the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated in 1945 by the Red Army and serves as a reminder of one of the darkest chapters in human history. This year’s theme is "One Day", encouraging us to consider how the lives of so many were changed by genocide forever and, most of all, to strive for that "one day" in the future where genocide will no longer wreak destruction on humanity.
I am reminded of the day I spent in Auschwitz learning about the past. Specifically, I am reminded of a display in Auschwitz-Birkenau in a building at the back of the camp. I remember vividly walking into that room where newly arrived men, women, and children were registered, disinfected, and deprived of their identities. Behind a piece of glass in the first room is a set of keys. These keys belonged to a real person; they had been used by them each day to lock and unlock their front door, leaving and returning home, believing that this simple routine was a guarantee. Perhaps they had a family, and each day would return home to a wife and kids, with food ready and on the table after work. But then a time came when they never would again. Taking their keys with them, they remained hopeful that one day, they would return.
For most, though, that one day never came.
Six million European Jews never got the chance to return home. Those that did survive were still far from their homes, displaced by the Holocaust, and almost always without their families.
Every time I reach for my own keys, I am reminded of how fortunate the majority of us are to return each day to our homes. A guarantee for many that we are safe. I know that I have returned today, and I will tomorrow, and every day after that.
For many people, however, leaving the comfort of their home comes with risk. Only last week we saw another act of violent antisemitism, this time in Texas. A British man entered the Beth Israel Synagogue and held a rabbi and multiple others hostage for several hours. It was only the quick thinking of Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker that ensured their escape. This was by no means isolated. A report from the Community Security Trust (CST) found that in the first six months of 2021 there was a 49% increase in antisemitic incidents over the previous year.
Other groups across the UK, and around the world, also know this risk. Islamophobia continues to make up the highest percentage of hate crime incidents in the UK, and racism is on the rise.
I can't draw my mind from other ongoing genocides around the world, whether that be in Darfur or of the Uyghurs in China. And so I desperately hope for one day without genocide. One day where these people can return home without fear. I hope that by remembering the past, we may finally learn our lessons from it.
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