Holocaust Memorial Day 2021

Today’s guest blog is written by Polly Allen, Ben Royston and Marian Liebmann of the Bristol Holocaust Memorial Day Civic Commemoration Steering Group.

Credit: Holocaust Memorial Day Trust

This time last year, we were preparing for our annual Holocaust Memorial Day commemorative event in City Hall, which would bring together over 200 local people of all generations, all backgrounds, all religions and none, to stand against prejudice and intolerance and say ‘never again’.

Holocaust Memorial Day is marked on 27th January every year; the date was chosen because it is the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. This is an important day for marking the remembrance of both victims and survivors of the Holocaust and the subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. We mark Holocaust Memorial Day to remind people of the horrors of the past, so that we can say ‘never again’ and learn the lessons of history to protect human rights.

Here in Bristol, we are proud to unite all generations, faiths and communities through our annual civic commemoration event. Sadly, due to the current pandemic, we will not be able to meet, listen to the story of survivors and their messages of strength and hope in person this year, but Bristol will not let the day pass without honouring it.

We’re proud of Bristol’s refugee-supporting organisations – many of them have community stalls in City Hall every year on Holocaust Memorial Day – and its status as a City of Sanctuary. In 2019, Deputy Mayor Asher Craig spoke passionately about the ongoing work to support refugees in Bristol. We also celebrate our city’s diversity; on Bristol streets, you can hear as many as 92 different languages spoken, including Yiddish, the language spoken by so many victims of the Holocaust, and that’s something to be proud of. We’re a city that supports all races, religions, ages, abilities, gender identities and sexualities.

We also usually welcome Bristol secondary school students who speak about the Lessons from Auschwitz programme, which sees them travel to Auschwitz-Birkenau, visiting the concentration camp museum site to learn in person about the Holocaust. This can be a life-changing experience for the young people involved, and many of them are visibly moved when they recall their time at the museum. Sadly, this programme is also suspended due to the pandemic, which makes it even more important that we mark Holocaust Memorial Day this year.

We are also fortunate to have had some excellent main speakers over the years on our programme, many of them Holocaust survivors; one speaker, Iby Knill, aged 95, used to live in Bristol and returned last year to address the attendees at City Hall.

Iby Knill at a previous Holocaust Memorial Day event at City Hall (Credit: Bristol HMD)

Little did we know then that the year ahead would throw everyone off course, not just in Bristol and in the UK, but globally, and the world would often seem a quieter and scarier place. The coronavirus pandemic has changed everyone’s daily lives, the way we plan for the future, and the way we mark important events, with Hanukkah, Diwali and Christmas amongst those that had to be celebrated in different ways to keep our communities safe.

Because of this, we are inviting Bristolians to mark Holocaust Memorial Day in several safe and socially distanced ways. The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust sets a different theme every year to help inspire events and education around the day itself; this year’s theme is ‘Be the light in the darkness’.

We thank Bristol City Council, who will light up City Hall in purple, the colour of Holocaust Memorial Day on January 27th and we invite everyone to join us in spreading a little light in Bristol on Wednesday 27 January 2021 by:

  • Illuminating businesses and buildings with purple lighting.
  • Lighting a candle at 8pm and putting it in your window (safely!), in memory of all those who were murdered for who they were; and to stand against prejudice and hatred today.
  • Sharing what Holocaust Memorial Day means to you – email chair@bristolhmd.org, or tag us on Facebook or Twitter with your thoughts, whether you’re reminded of a film, book or artwork, or maybe you have visited a site connected to genocide.
  • Joining with us to watch the national online event from the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust on 27 January, from 7pm-8pm, which will include a range of speakers. It’s free to watch; you can register now.

Sadly, genocide isn’t confined to history, and Holocaust Memorial Day is a chance to mark that and stand against it. Beyond the day itself, there is still work to be done promoting tolerance and human rights, and finding the things that unite us rather than the things that divide us.

We hope that Bristolians will take a moment on 27th January, and in the months ahead, to stand against intolerance, racism and discrimination, and be the light in the darkness.