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A day to remember?

by: Leslie Bunder - Last updated: 2005-09-13

Holocaust Memorial Day

Holocaust Memorial Day

First published: 24 January 2005

The problem with Holocaust Memorial Day is not so much remembering, but remembering very selectively.
It is supposed to be about "commemorating all the communities who suffered as a result of the Holocaust and Nazi persecution". But the reality is that the definition of "all the communities" is still very limited and fails to reflect what was happening outside of Eastern Europe.
This year we look at the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, but by focusing on this we are failing to truly remember.  Yes, it may have been liberation day for Auschwitz, but the war was still not over and it was not the end of mass killings of Jews or indeed the suffering of Jews in other countries.
Holocaust Memorial Day is a brave attempt at trying to make up for years of not remembering as a nation what happened to those who suffered under the Nazis during World War II, but does not go far enough in terms of how it remembers all.
While the majority of those who suffered were Jews, there were also many others who equally were murdered because of their background.  Whether they were gypsies, gay or disabled, they were people who were subjected to barbaric treatment because of intolerance and hatred.
The word Holocaust is emotive, it is associated with Jewish people but really should not be seen or adopted by any one people.
We have become obsessed that the Holocaust is something that only can be associated with Jewish people.
Holocaust Memorial Day has tried in the past to include other world events such as Rwanda but this does not go far enough to reflect that the Holocaust is not just a Jewish "issue" but rather it is something that touches us all, Jew or not.
Even within the Jewish community, some events do not seem to have been included in this national day.  What about the Farhud, a day in 1941 which marked the start to the end of Jews in Iraq.  On June 1, many hundreds of Iraqi Jews were brutally killed by local Arabs trained by the Nazis. These Sephardi Jews were also raped and maimed and their homes and businesses were destroyed in a two day pogrom.
Holocaust Memorial Day started off with the best intentions, but is quickly showing that you cannot have a national day without it being inclusive of all those who suffered.
As a Jewish community there has been a day which recognises what happened and why we never forget. That day is Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day and Jews all around the world and indeed non-Jews recognise the importance of the day. It takes place in the Jewish calendar on 27th of Nissan which is in April/May. In 2005 this will be on 6 May
For a national day to reflect on the issues that the Government wants us all to understand and learn, Holocaust Memorial Day needs to change.
The way forward for remembrance is not so much focusing on a single issue, but rather broadening to include other events that affected people, Jewish or not. And if we focus on Jewish issues, we need to broaden those as well. What about those who suffered as a result of Russian pogroms and either killed or thrown out of their villages?  What about those who lived in Spain and suffered under the crusades?
The Holocaust and what happened to Jews during World War II, is but one brutal occurrence in history where intolerance and hatred showed how it can destroy people, but before and after there have been many other occurrences which we need to learn from.
By focusing selectively on one event, we end up as a nation trying to compare mass killings, whether they are from World War II or Rwanda and put too much emphasis of one over the other.  One event is not more important than another. They are both equally important to each other and have affected people.
Holocaust Memorial Day should be seen as a start from the Government and we need to move forward to truly having a day that is more inclusive, not just Jewish inclusive but all people from all parts of the world.