Why We Need a Holocaust Memorial Day

On Monday evening I proposed that LUU should officially recognise and support Holocaust Memorial Day, which was agreed by the panel. In the past couple of years, Leeds University students have been able to hear testimonies from Holocaust survivors Hannah Lewis and Iby Knill. This gave some the opportunity to listen to Holocaust survivors for the first time and to understand the atrocities committed by the Nazis in Central Europe from 1939-1945 against the Jews, LGBT people, political prisoners, disabled people, Roma people, and communists.

What was more worrying for me was that three members of the panel voted against the idea. Whilst I fully respect their choice to vote in this way I believe that this is a result of a lack of education and understanding of the darkest period in human history. A report published this week from the UCL Centre for Holocaust Education which surveyed 9,000 schoolchildren aged 11-18 showed that, despite a huge effort to increase the levels of Holocaust education in the UK, only 73% of the students surveyed recognised the word ‘Holocaust’. There were also significant percentages that were unaware of the extent of the persecution, with 10% believing that fewer than 100,000 Jews were killed. Not only were there large gaps in awareness of the Holocaust amongst UK schoolchildren, this also translated into a lack of understanding of the more general issue of antisemitism, where 68% of students were unaware of what the term meant. This is a growing trend in the UK where anti-Semitic incidents rose by 53% in the first half of this year compared to 2014. Another reason given at the forum against HMD was the worry that it would become ‘politicised’. I would love to know how commemorating the murder of 6 million Jews and 5 million others comprising of LGBT, disabled, political prisoners, Roma, and communists can be considered a political statement nor the millennium long hatred of the Jews that continues to this day.

This is why Holocaust Memorial Day is so important. Not only is it a day to commemorate the events of the 1930s and 1940s and subsequent genocides, it should also be a day to remind ourselves to learn from history what can happen when such hatred exists in society. This is a hugely personal case for me and one that I feel I have a responsibility to pursue as a 3rd Generation survivor of the Holocaust. On both sides of my family, most of my family were wiped out by the Nazis. My grandfather was one of the few who survived from his town in Poland after enduring two ghettos, two concentration camps, and three slave labour camps.

After he was brought to Britain and made a life here, he started telling his story in schools, religious communities, and more with one central theme; ‘I implore you not to hate.’ I have always carried this with me as have many others who have had the privilege to hear him speak.

I hope that now this has passed we can have our largest Holocaust Memorial Day event at Leeds University, with a speaker, stalls, information, and more. If anyone is interested in getting involved with the day then please find me on Facebook or email me at pt13lv@leeds.ac.uk

Liron Velleman

Image source: news.leeds.gov.uk

Leave a Reply