Holocaust Memorial Day should remember all

reminds us of the many different groups of society affected by the Holocaust

Photo Credit: Luckyfotostream

Photo Credit: Luckyfotostream

Next Monday (the 27th of January) is Holocaust Memorial Day. Ask the common man what the most important statistic is about the Holocaust and I bet that you will be met with something to do with the murder of six million Jews. As a Jewish person myself, I am thankful to live in a society where virtually everyone knows about, and hates, what was inflicted on members of my religion. The sense of unification and remembrance that is felt every year should be a source of hope that one day, genocide will end for good.

However, in recent years I have become increasingly aware of a worrying trend in people’s knowledge about the Holocaust. It may surprise you to know that the death toll of Nazi Germany’s actions reached much more than six million. Depending on which study you use, actual victim counts vary between 11 million and 21 million. This surplus over Jewish victims includes the Soviet Communists, Ethnic Poles, Romanis, Freemasons, Slovenes, homosexuals, disabled people, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Spanish Republicans which were also murdered during this period. Whether these killings should be included in the technical definition of the word “Holocaust” is in my view irrelevant. What matters much more than debates about terminology is that millions of people, including but not exclusively Jews, were brutally killed at the time of the Holocaust. Nevertheless, it seems to me that a disproportionate amount of education, discussion and remembrance about the Holocaust ignores this fact.

It must be noted that I do not particularly hold anger towards any individual for this problem. If you have never been made significantly aware of these issues, you can hardly be blamed for not acting upon them. My frustrations are rather with society as a whole for making these omissions.

An example of when I was made particularly aware of this issue occurred last summer, during a tour of Yad Vashem, the “world centre for documentation, research, education and commemoration of the Holocaust.” I decided to ask the tour guide whether there are any parts of the site devoted to non-Jewish victims, citing homosexuals as an example. I was met with looks of surprise and mild irritation, before the tour guide replied that although there are small sections designed for the purposes I had raised, this was primarily a Jewish memorial, so in a word, no. She was later supported in this attitude by one of my peers, who made the case that homosexuality is arguably against Jewish law, making it inappropriate for Yad Vashem to commemorate gay people. This experience left me pretty ashamed that fellow representatives of the Jewish faith were expressing this view, despite the fact that a large principle of Judaism is to “love thy neighbour”. I fear that this is the attitude unfortunately taken by too many of the more conservative and ignorant members of the community.

It is my strong belief that everyone should pay due remembrance to all victims of the Holocaust, regardless of religion, background or circumstance. This Holocaust Memorial Week, I will continue to appreciate the efforts that society makes to remember the lost souls of the Holocaust. I will of course be devoting a lot of my thoughts to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. However, I plan to also spend much of my time remembering all of the other people who fell victim to the mindless persecution that we all know about. My hope is that this year, more people recognise my view and join me in such reflections.


  1. I found this article by mistake – I was a student from 1979-82 (not at York, but that old hotbed of student activism, Sussex University).

    Now, I’ve given you a little context, may I say that, at every Holocaust Commemoration Ceremony I’ve attended (since it first took place in the UK in 2001) survivors of other acts of genocide (Rwanda, Bosnia & Roma) have been recognized.
    And gay & disabled victims of the Nazis.

    Schools – including primary schools – are encouraged to contribute with short plays, poetry & artwork. When you’ve seen 8-year-old school children attempted to interpret a child’s experience of the Shoah, it keeps you awake at night.

    I live in London & many boroughs commemorates HMD in their own way:
    It is not at all & by no means an exclusively Jewish event.

    I’m sorry that your experience of Yad Vashem was so disheartening.

    But perhaps this is not the place to get into a discussion about the purpose of Yad Vashem – yes, a loose translation of the Hebrew of the words ‘yad vashem’ would be ‘a place to remember them’ or in my case & yours – a place to remember us.

    But context is all – the world I grew up would be alien to you.
    Your world is very different to mine.
    So, I’m guessing we’d have to agree to disagree on a lot of things.
    The purpose of Yad Vashem one of them

    Shavua tov.

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  2. 27 Jan ’14 at 3:21 pm

    check your spelling

    Effected [SIC] – spend a bit more time before publishing articles. If you want to be the best newspaper on campus, you have to get the basics right (spelling)

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  3. @check your spelling: …oops.

    @Ruth Rolle: fair point, and I am glad that the memorials you have attended have been aware of the issues I raised. Unfortunately, these are not experiences shared by me or many others.
    Re Yad Vashem, I probably should have made this clearer in the article but I wasn’t taking particular issue with Yad Vashem itself, more with the attitude of the tour guide and my peer. In any case, I would argue that as the world centre for Holocaust memorial, it is the responsibility of Yad Vashem to educate the world on ALL victims, regardless of the translation of its name or the fact that it is located in a Jewish State. I do admit that I am unsure about the exact level of recognition of non Jewish victims in Yad Vashem. But having been twice to the museum part, I have only ever found one small stand devoted to this aspect of the Holocaust.

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    • Um.

      Yad Vashem is one of several major holocaust memorials in the world – USHMM (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum), Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden (Berlin) and the most recent addition, Museum for the History of Polish Jews celebrates the Jewish contribution to Polish cultural life, for nearly 1000 years, as well as commemorating sharit ha-platah (the counted remnant) and those who have nobody to remember them.

      Jews were embedded in Europe before they were engulfed by the Holocaust

      Anyway, we’ve both said our piece – context is all.
      With respect, you’re a student at a Russell Group university in a city without a synagogue.
      I’m a middle-aged woman living in London, enjoying all the benefits (& frustration, of course) of Jewish communal life.
      Not much common ground between us, is there?

      But, we do share something important though – the ability to look outward into the non-Jewish community and (I think) a wish to see tikkun olam (literally ‘repairing the world’) in action.

      I wish you well.

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  4. I am more than happy to agree to disagree.
    Although, I would just like to point out that I grew up in Jewish communities in Liverpool followed by Leeds. I also have close links with Jewish communities in Manchester, and London. In addition, I regularly participate in York’s small but active Jewish community. So my “context” is perhaps a little more aware of current events than you may think.

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  5. I feel that there are many holocausts that should be at the very least acknowledged and are not. People only allow the term ‘holocaust’ for the Jewish one. To my knowledge the word did not come into common use in fact, until this event. But nobody wants to acknowledge the approximately 12 million people slaughtered in the Congo under King Leopold of Belgium in the late 19th and early 20th century, leaving with it a generation of children with severed limbs for not meeting rubber collecting quotas. Not only do these people not have the respect of being given museums or reparations to educate people on this event. Neither history lesson after history lesson made compulsory at some stage of the curriculum, notifying people of the evils inflicted upon them…they aren’t even given the courtesy of the term ‘holocaust’. In fact, most people worldwide do not even acknowledge this as an event in history, despite there being easily accessible information on this atrocity. Nor the people of Namibia, who suffered death through the pre-nazi German concentration camps of shark island, albeit a smaller number of a some 5-10 thousand.. possibly the test individuals of the atrocities that followed for Jewish people in decades to come. Personally, I agree that many groups of the Jewish holocaust should be remembered. I have read that many people were affected, even if not murdered, had various other forms of torture to homosexual, disabled, mixed race or any other group not considered the ‘norm’. However, it very much hurts and saddens me that whilst EVERYONE at least recognises the Jewish holocaust, whether they know the details of it or not, but nobody so much as bats an eyelid or values the genocides I reference. The lives simply don’t matter. Along with many other colonial genocides that have occurred worldwide, which I could list, but would be here all day. I would love to see a day when the victims and descendants of these victims of genocide are given the same respect as victims of the Jewish holocaust.

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  6. @M Ogundipe
    I entirely agree with you. It is highly inconsistent that society primarily recognises one set of victims from one particular Holocaust. Of course other Holocausts have occurred, including the ones you highlighted. The victims of these genocides are no less deserving of recognition, yet they seem to be overshadowed in people’s thoughts.
    However, I would point out that official Holocaust memorial bodies, such as the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and Yad Vashem, have made promising steps in the right direction. They encourage people to consider genocides around the world that are currently occurring, such as in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. Maybe this can be seen as the first step in achieving what seem to be our shared goals.
    Finally, I would also reiterate the point that in my opinion, you can’t blame individual people for not recognising other Holocausts. If society has never taught people about them, how can you expect them to recognise and respect such victims? Hopefully, we can start to move as a society towards a more comprehensive system of remembrance.

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