Holocaust Memorial Day 2020

Monday 27 January 2020 marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp during WWII, and Holocaust Memorial Day 2020. On Thursday, History Teacher Mr James Leigh, delivered the School’s weekly Spiritual Assembly on the theme of standing together. Below is the assembly he gave:


“Monday 27 January was Holocaust Memorial Day. This morning we will reflect on the Holocaust, and the importance of standing together.

First, a reminder: Holocaust Memorial Day is the day each year when we remember the six million Jewish people who were persecuted and murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators during the Holocaust. On Holocaust Memorial Day, we also remember the other groups of people who were persecuted and murdered: gypsies, disabled people, gay people, Jehovah’s Witnesses, political opponents and many others. Holocaust Memorial Day is when we remember the millions of men, women and children who were also murdered in genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.

Genocide is when a group of people is targeted for destruction just because of, for example, their religion. On Holocaust Memorial Day, we are reminded of what can happen when we fail to stand together, and fail to defend our shared values.

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist

Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist

Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew

Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me

German Lutheran Pastor, Martin Niemöller, 1946

The theme for Holocaust Memorial Day 2020 is to Stand Together. It explores how genocidal regimes throughout history have deliberately fractured societies by marginalising certain groups, and how these tactics can be challenged by us standing together with our neighbours, and speaking out against oppression.

It is important to stress that ‘standing together’ means speaking out against those who do wrong in our society; it does not literally mean to stand with them! Stand with those who are being victimised, or who are on the receiving end of poor treatment. Never stand by and say nothing: that only helps the persecutors, and never helps the victims. We all need to have the courage to call it out when we see those around us taking the wrong action.

In the years leading up to the Holocaust, Nazi policies and propaganda deliberately encouraged divisions within German society – urging ‘Aryan’ Germans to keep themselves separate from their Jewish German neighbours. The Holocaust was enabled by ordinary citizens not standing with their targeted neighbours before it began. We must learn from these mistakes.

‘I made a promise to a girl in Auschwitz – to make young people aware of the dangers that the dehumanisation, denigration and differentiation of people can lead to.’

Iby Knill, Holocaust survivor

Propaganda uses stereotypes and existing prejudices to create caricatures of victim groups, and turn the rest of the population against them. Nazi propaganda relied on dehumanising the Jews and other groups, often by portraying them as animals such as rats and lice. Cartoons were published in newspapers, and posters put in public spaces.

By using dehumanising language, the Nazis encouraged the public to think of certain groups of people as having the characteristics of animals: dirty, disease carrying, or pests. This tactic also served to encouraged the public to think of the targeted communities as ‘less than human’.

Disgracefully, some of our politicians and public figures have recently been doing the same. During the Brexit campaign, posters showed immigrants as hordes, as pests. Tweets were sent out by a ‘media personality’ asking for a ‘final solution’ to the problems of immigration. Our main political parties were strongly accused of antisemitism and Islamophobia. This is not acceptable, and we must make it clear that we will not tolerate extremist views such as these in our society.

In Nazi Germany, despite the introduction of the Nazi’s policies, examples can be found of inspiring individuals who assisted, rescued or showed solidarity with those who were being persecuted in their communities and countries.

The Kindertransport (German for “children’s transport”) was an organised rescue effort that took place during the nine months prior to the outbreak of the Second World War. The United Kingdom took in nearly 10,000 predominantly Jewish children from Nazi Germany, Nazi-occupied Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland. The children were placed in British care. Often, they were the only members of their families who survived the Holocaust. The programme was supported, publicised and encouraged by the British government. Importantly, the British government waived all immigration requirements that the Jewish community could not fulfil, and put no number limit on the programme.

More recently, during the London Bridge terror attack last November, a group of diverse people stood together against extremism. They fought back using narwhal tusks, fire extinguishers and anything else they could get their hands on, risking their lives and receiving numerous injuries to pin the terrorist to the ground, despite his wearing what looked like an explosive vest. Who were these defenders of the public? One man was a Polish immigrant (Lukasz Koczocik). Two (Steven Gallant and John Crilly) had been convicted of murder and were being rehabilitated into society. Another (Thomas Gray) was a former school boy rugby player, who exemplified our theme when asked why he helped, as saying ‘one in, all in’. These men and others heroically intervened and risked their lives standing together. Very sadly, Jack Mallet who was killed was a man committed to helping rehabilitate both of the convicted criminals. He saw the good in others and wanted to help them improve their lives. These heroes deserve far more attention than the terrorist.

‘Woe to mankind, woe to our German nation if God’s Holy Commandment “Thou shalt not kill” is not only broken, but if this is actually tolerated and permitted to go unpunished.’

Cardinal Clemens von Galen

On 3 August 1941, Cardinal Clemens von Galen, delivered a passionate sermon focusing on clear Christian messages and about the Nazis killing those with physical and mental disabilities and illness, which he described as ‘plain murder.’ People who publicly opposed the Nazis had been imprisoned in concentration camps, persecuted and murdered since 1933, so Cardinal von Galen knew he was risking his life for what he believed in.

Under pressure from public opinion, Hitler ordered the closure of the programme against disabled people. Cardinal Clemens von Galen’s actions demonstrate the power of speaking out in favour of your beliefs.

In order to combat hate in our communities, we all have a crucial role to play in changing what is seen as acceptable language and behaviour. In 2017/18, there were 94,000 hate crime offences recorded by the police in England and Wales, an increase of 17% compared with the previous year. This continues a trend of increasing numbers of offences recorded in recent years.

We can all make little efforts. Make sure to include people by inviting them to events. If a person is being ignored and mistreated, help them!

Remember the RBCS pastoral three Cs: care, courtesy and consideration. We all have a duty to think of others, and not just our own personal needs. Our shared values are important, and we should remember what unites us rather than what divides us.

Of course there is a huge amount you could read on the Holocaust, but I would also like to draw attention to a brilliant Instagram account called ‘eva.stories’. If you watch the Stories, it tells the true story of a young girl in the Holocaust in a professionally acted account. It is brilliant and also devastating.  It is also now available on Snapchat.

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