By Neil Martin OBE
Chair of Yom Hashoah UK
Last year’s virtual Yom HaShoah UK Commemoration was the first of the many virtual communal events to take place during the COVID-19 pandemic, and would set the scene for all others that followed. In a strange juxtaposition, at a time of understandable anxiety and heartbreak for so many, it was the collective memory of the Holocaust that brought our community together as one.
Despite commemorating the darkest moment in living memory, as the virtual children’s choirs sang, the ceremony gave people hope, and for many still struggling to come to terms with lockdown, it gave a sense of perspective. As the ceremony streamed live, with thousands watching from their homes, they joined in the unifying act of remembrance, as families from all across the UK (and beyond) simultaneously lit Yellow Candles from their homes.
Whilst organising the virtual ceremony will always remain one of my proudest moments, it was meant to be a ‘one-off’. Sadly, of course, as the months went on, and further lockdowns were announced, despite a road map to an end hopefully in sight, it doesn’t come quite soon enough for this year’s Yom HaShoah Commemoration.
You’ll be forgiven for being exhausted by online events – believe me, as CEO of JLGB, I know all about Zoom fatigue, and how after a year of virtual programmes, we all long for the return to face-to-face events. Yet somehow, we must all muster the collective strength to gather for one last virtual event, but perhaps the most important one of all, as we honour our pledge that no matter what, we must always remember on Yom HaShoah.
Just a few weeks ago, I heard a shocking statistic that over 250 survivors and refugees, who rebuilt their lives here in the UK, have sadly passed away from COVID-19 in this last year. This news reverberated around my head, and I hope it resonates with you as you read this too, and encourages you to watch this year’s National Yom HaShoah Commemoration.
For despite our fatigue, despite these extremely difficult and unprecedented times in which we currently live, if we have the opportunity to hear and become witness to the first-hand testimony of a survivor, even if virtually, we must grab it now, before it’s too late… and you hear the first-hand accounts of survivors and refugees, like Icek Alterman, Lily Ebert MBE, Arek Hersh MBE and Vera Schaufeld MBE who will be recounting their testimony at Wednesday’s commemoration, the stark realities of what they experienced and were forced to endure is simply beyond words.
Notwithstanding the unimaginable horrors of the Holocaust, Wednesday’s virtual ceremony is designed to be appropriate for all ages and should be witnessed and remembered by everyone. So, next week on Wednesday 7th April at 7.30pm, pause that latest boxset, let your children stay up that little bit later, have your Yellow Candle ready and switch your Smart TV to YouTube and simply search “YomHaShoahUK” or watch on your mobile, tablet or computer at www.yomhashoah.org.uk.
Be there as the UK Jewish community gathers from the north, south, east and west to remember together as one and mourn the loss of six million Jews in the Holocaust, honour the heroes and its martyrs, and bear witness to the first-hand testimony of our community’s truly remarkable and inspirational survivors and refugees.
Note: Yom HaShoah UK, which organises the national commemoration, operates under the auspices of the Board of Deputies and comprise representatives of UK organisations involved in Holocaust education, awareness and remembrance activities and Survivor, Refugee and Ex-Service personnel welfare.