Last year I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau, one of the largest of the concentration camps in Europe, where around 1.1 million were murdered. The complex is deathly quiet today, with little to suggest that it was the site of one of the most horrific crimes against humanity ever committed. The sheer scale of Birkenau is staggering enough, but more affecting is the physical remnants of the human lives that were destroyed by hatred.
The piles of shoes that belonged to children. The mounds of shaved human hair intended to be repurposed into the war effort. And most devastating of all were the nail marks on the walls of the remaining gas chambers. This is a tough subject, but on January 27th Holocaust memorial day, we must remember the horror of the reality of genocide to make it harder for it to happen on our watch again.
Eleven million people, including six million Jewish men women and children were killed in one of the largest acts of mass murder in human history over the space of four years. The Nazi state, pursuing a policy of institutional ethnic cleansing, established extermination camps across the occupied territories in an attempt to achieve racial purity. Homosexuals, national minority groups and the disabled were also targeted as part of Hitlers vision of “Aryan” supremacy, and on holocaust memorial day we remember everyone who suffered under Nazi persecution.
Holocaust memorial day also serves to remind us of other genocides in seventy years following the events of the second world war. Genocide did not start and finish with Hitler, and it is vital that we remember that within our lifetimes the horror of Auschwitz has been recreated across the world.
The horrific events of the killing fields of Cambodia from 1970, where the communist forces of the Khymer Rouge purged millions of the educated middle classes and ethnic Vietnamese.
The genocide of millions of the Tutsi people in Rwanda when their own government turned against them during the Rwandan civil war in 1994.
The persecution and mass murder of Bosnian Muslims by ultra-nationalist groups in the aftermath of the collapse of Yugoslavia.
All these events are remembered on the 27th of January across the world. In Lancaster MP Cat Smith and the Mayor among others will pay their respects at Lancaster Castle, while at Alexandra Square there will be commemoration and candles throughout the day in the memory of those who died in the holocaust and subsequent genocides.
Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said that “this national day has become something that Holocaust survivors deeply value. It is a way for us to honour them and pledge to remember”
“We know we should always remain vigilant and that it is up to us to safeguard the sacred memory of the Holocaust. Rather than pander to these fears and hide away, we will tackle this head on with verve and passion and make sure we never forget”