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"British Jews were targeted by the Nazis"

Holocaust Memorial Day in Great Britain

Nazi bombing of London

Nazi bombing of London

In its virtual journey throughout Europe to discover how Holocaust victims are commemorated in the various countries, we interviews Agnes Grunwald-Spier, Holocaust survivor, scholar and member of both the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust (2002-2005) for which she now acts as a consultant, and Gariwo Scientific Committee. 

Who holds Holocaust Remembrance Day in Great Britain? Would you tell us about your organization or Trust and your activity? 
The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust (HMDT) is the charity that promotes and supports Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD).

HMD has taken place in the UK since 2001, with a national UK event in London and over 2,000 local activities taking place on or around 27 January each year.
 The UK played a leading role in establishing HMD as an international day of commemoration in 2000, when 46 governments signed the Stockholm Declaration.
The UK Government had responsibility for running HMD from 2001-2005, organized through the Home Office.
In May 2005 HMDT was registered as a charity (charity no: 1109348) and the then Home Secretary David Blunkett appointed HMDT Trustees for the first time. The professional team started work in October 2005.
 The Department for Communities and Local Government has funded our work since 2007.
To date, we have overseen massive growth of HMD activities – over 2,000 activities took place across the UK for HMD 2013. We have worked in partnership with many organizations to ensure the life stories of survivors are shared with hundreds of thousands of people. In 2006 only 266 local activities took place. It has increased each year.
 Our external evaluation of HMD 2013 indicates that at least 70,000  people attended a HMD activity with nearly 90,000 people engaging with HMD online.
 For the first time in spring 2013, we produced, Holocaust Memorial Day in the UK: 2013 and Beyond, a booklet detailing the impact that Holocaust Memorial Day has on individuals and communities across the UK.  The booklist highlights the diverse range of activities and locations in which HMD took place for 2013, and looks forward towards HMD 2014 and the theme of Journeys.
We have a special film made for HMD 2014 on the theme.
The title of the film Journeys reflects the theme for Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) 2014.  The theme of Journeys reminds us that the experience of those affected by the Holocaust and subsequent genocides is characterized by forced journeys. 

This film explores a variety of journeys, prompting us to consider those we make every day and those we choose to take to seek new horizons.  Journeys of people such as Daniel Bent, who cycled 9,000 miles from the UK to India; Leah Romain, who journeyed to Grenada to meet family for the first time; and James Tombling, who travelled to build a school hall in Kenya.

These are juxtaposed with the forced journeys that characterized the experiences of people during the Holocaust and subsequent genocides; journeys of persecution, escape or into hiding, as refugees, and of return to places where family and friends once thrived.  The film features the journeys of Holocaust survivor Lily Ebert; Var Ashe Houston, who was forced from her home during the Genocide in Cambodia; and Appolinaire Kageruka, who escaped and survived the Genocide in Rwanda.  

The film also looks at the items that people take with them on their journeys.  The only possession that Lily was able to keep with her on her journey was her gold pendant, given to her by her mother, which remarkably survived the camp with her, hidden in the heel of her shoe.  Var Ashe Houston and her family were forced to leave their home in Phnom Penh, the items they put in the car were gathered quickly and were only the essentials.  Var also took her English Oxford Dictionary.  You can find out more about the contributors whose journeys feature in the film.

HMDT is governed by a Board of Trustees, which is made up of a diverse range of individuals and organizations. Our Trustees set the strategic vision and have responsibility for the governance of the charity. 
 We have a special a Youth Champion Programme. 

After taking part in our Youth Workshops, a Youth Champion can become a HMD activity organizer, raising local awareness of HMD and arranging an activity with your friends or through your youth group/organization in your local community. They also represent and champion HMD.  
Since the workshop, our Youth Champions have been organizing their own brilliant and innovative HMD activities in their local communities, schools and youth organizations, as well as promoting HMD and its messages through social media. 
This year Support Workers will be representing HMDT within the nations; Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as well as throughout five regions in England; the North East, Yorkshire and Humber, the South West, the North West and the East Midlands.
Would you like something more, or something less, to be done to commemorate the Holocaust? 
It takes time to build it up – events take place all over the country now and are well supported. They increase in number every year and HMDT runs workshops to help people organize and plan local events. We need better media coverage and better attendance from leaders like the Prime Minister and the Royal family. It doesn’t get the coverage the Annual Remembrance Service in November does because it is relatively new and also more people in England were involved in fighting in both World Wars and many families were bereaved.
England did not experience the Holocaust on its territory. Why is it important also here to remember the Shoah? Do the Britons perceive this importance? Do people participate in the commemorations, do they feel involved? 

England has many Holocaust survivors still living and defended Europe against the Nazis. English Jews were listed at the Wannsee Conference and would have suffered the fate  of their co-religionists in occupied Europe if England had lost the war. It is important for people to understand the dangers of prejudice and race hate, particularly now with the increase in the votes cast for right wing political parties and the number of people denying the Holocaust.
Do you think it is right or correct to remember the Holocaust with the other genocide cases? Is it possible in your opinion to talk about the Righteous when commemorating 6,000,000 innocent victims? 

I think the other genocides show the universality of hatred and the tragic results of prejudice. The Holocaust remains our main focus. The rescuers are only a tiny proportion of the population of occupied Europe – about 24,000 people have now been recognised  by Yad Vashem. But they demonstrate what people who think for themselves can achieve by ignoring propaganda telling them to do what they knew to be wrong. This is a very important lesson to teach young people.

Is there some British rescuer figure whom you would like to make our audience aware of? 

You could look at Bertha Bracey in my book who was a Quaker and was responsible for helping to organise the Kindertransport. There is Frank Foley who was a British diplomat in Berlin – he saved 1000s  of German Jews by bending the rules on their documentation. He also interviewed Rudolf Hess when he landed in England in 1941. There were also 10 British prisoners of war who were in a Polish camp when they came across a Jewish girl from the Stutthof camp who was on a forced march. She was in a terrible state and they hid her in a barn and looked after her with food, medicine and cleared her hair from lice. She got better and survived the rest of the war and went to America.

You have a long curriculum of study and work about Holocaust studies and your books are a proof of this. What do you think matters the most, study or direct experience, when it comes to communicating or passing on the "lessons" of the Holocaust to the younger generations and the citizens in general? 

The direct experience is obviously the best but given the age of survivors, they will not be here for ever – unfortunately. Their stories should be videoed and filmed so that they are available for generations to come. After all with the Anniversary of WW1 coming so soon the film of that war is very poignant. A picture is worth a 1000 words.

22 January 2014

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Remember the past in order to build a future

The International Committee of the Armenian Righteous. Memory is the Future was founded by Piero Kuciukian in order to commemorate those who went against the genocide of 1915. The title emphasises the function of the memory, which is not a nostalgic look back in history, but a a clear sense of the past to build a future without making old mistakes.
The memory has many solutions and presents conflicting results, either positive or negative depending on how it is treated. Reflections on the previous events help us to understand the present, which means to search for the coordinates that allow us to interpret new situations with awareness of the dangers or opportunities that are triggered by certain mechanisms such as cultural, social and individual. The experience of the genocides of the twentieth century, the phenomenon of totalitarianism, resulted in the devastating world war, the balance of power during the Cold War, provide very precise indications on the geopolitical hegemony and humanitarian frifts to be avoided, while the example of the Righteous, their varied efforts on behalf of the persecuted, the demand for freedom, independence of thought and the instance of the defense of human dignity, are to be taken to avoid the pitfalls of arrogance, denial of truth, the rejection of diversity, closing the other, unilateral decision.

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