Holocaust Memorial Day

Holocaust Memorial Day was established by the British Government in 2001 then adopted by the United Nations in 2005 as an International Day which takes place on 27 January each year.

It’s a time for everyone to pause to remember the millions of people who have been murdered or whose lives were changed beyond recognition by the Holocaust Nazi Persecution and in subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.

North West Surrey Synagogue has been hosting a Holocaust Education Programme since 2016 and over that period has educated several thousand Surrey secondary school children, aged 14 to 15 years of age. It is a programme of which the NWSS Member can feel justifiably proud.

The focus of our programme has always been a talk by a Holocaust Survivor where they tell their own traumatic story. After the Survivors shared their story, the students completed a personal message card that they later handed to them, detailing the impact their story had had on them personally.

Since this project started, we have included a 20-minute slot for the students to talk about some work that they have prepared on the Holocaust. This work could be in the form of a picture, poem, story or whatever they wanted to do regarding the Holocaust. The theme in 2023 was “Ordinary People” and the artwork produced was truly astonishing as can be seen here (link available to members only – April/May HaDerech 2023).

The two-hour programme includes an introduction by our presenter, who is our link person throughout the sessions and an interactive activity to visually show how nearly a whole generation of Jews lost their lives purely because they did not fit into the Nazi ideology.

The Nuremberg Laws were introduced from 1933 to 1945 to take away the rights of all Jews living in Nazi occupied Europe and eventually dehumanised their lives by depriving them of their homes, their education, their work and making them a target for abuse with no protection from the law and we ran a session on the effect these laws had on the Jewish community.

Jill Attfield, who helped organise the commemorations at the synagogue, explains: “I think we have to remember that Holocaust Memorial Day was created, primarily for the wider community, to educate the world about the horrible things that happened during World War II under the Nazi regime”.

It is important to remember that in addition to singling out Jews for complete annihilation, the Nazis targeted for discrimination and persecution, anyone they believed threatened their ideal of a ‘pure Aryan race’. The Nazis wanted to ‘improve’ the genetic make-up of the population and so persecuted people they deemed to be disabled, either mentally or physically, as well as gay people. Political opponents, primarily communists, trade unionists and social democrats, as well as those whose religious beliefs conflicted with Nazi ideology, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, were also targeted for persecution.

Over the past six years NWSS has delivered HMD to over 2,000 students in the hope that education is the most powerful tool we have to fight hatred, intolerance and prejudice and make it a better world for everyone.