Office of the Chief Rabbi

Holocaust Memorial Day 2016

The theme of Holocaust Memorial Day 2016, which is held each year on the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, was ‘Don’t Stand By’, a sentiment that informed the Chief Rabbi’s messages to schoolchildren, the community and the nation.

Commemorative events were held across the UK to memorialise not only the millions murdered during the Holocaust by Nazi persecutors, but also the lives claimed by subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur – sad testament to the fact that lessons are still to be learned.

Ahead of HMD, Chief Rabbi Mirvis attended a special ceremony at the William Ellis Secondary School, where Freda Wineman, a survivor of multiple Nazi concentration camps, shared her testimony with students. The Chief Rabbi urged the children to safeguard the legacy of Ms Wineman, informing them that “it’s more vital than ever for us to keep the memory of the Shoah alive.”

William Ellis Academy students listen as the Chief Rabbi urges them to preserve the memory of the Holocaust

Students of the William Ellis Academy listen as the Chief Rabbi urges them to preserve the memory of the Holocaust

As HMD dawned the following day, he broadcast an impassioned Thought for the Day to BBC Radio 4’s 7 million daily listeners, pointing to the positive correlation observed between an increased tendency to stand by and an increasing number of bystanders, and referencing the actions of Moshe as an example of not standing by.

That afternoon, prior to addressing an audience of survivors, ministers and other distinguished guests at the national memorial event in the Guild Hall, the Chief Rabbi joined the UK Board of the UK Holocaust Foundation for the annual Holocaust Commission hosted by the Prime Minister, David Cameron. Under review was the progress of recommendations made by last year’s commission.

‘It’s more vital than ever for us to keep the memory of the Shoah alive’

Speaking at the national event, the Chief Rabbi contemplated the various junctures at which the Holocaust’s devastating impact could have been lessened or mitigated against had elective indifference not led innumerable bystanders to turn a blind eye. He traced the ‘Ifs’ in Holocaust history back to the disillusioned mind-set of the German electorate in the 1930’s, and concluded by imploring a renewed collective commitment to actively preventing genocides. Read the full transcript here.

Survivors from both the Holocaust and successive tragedies presented their accounts to the audience on the same day that David Cameron announced plans to build a permanent memorial to the Holocaust in Victoria Tower Gardens, adjacent to the Houses of Parliament. It will further ingrain the memory of the Holocaust in the public conscious, preserving the legacies of victims and survivors to heighten awareness of mankind’s brutal capabilities.

Cameron elucidated: “It will stand beside Parliament as a permanent statement of our values as a nation and will be something for our children to visit for generations to come.”