As the lights dimmed in Westminster Central Hall and the Holocaust memorial ceremony began, the room quivered in expectation, hesitation and relief. After hours of waiting, months of planning, but for some 70 years of remembering, we were all fearful of reopening the wounds, revisiting the horrors and reengaging with the issues.
As vice chair of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, I have been privileged to immerse myself this year in the issues of post Holocaust Britain. Having run a large consultation for the Prime Minister’s commission and submitting our recommendations, and having attended the new museum to Jewish life in Warsaw, my eyes have been opened wide.
We, as Jews, were not responsible for the Holocaust, or the other Nazi atrocities on gypsies, gays, people with disabilities or political opponents, or indeed, the subsequent genocides in Bosnia, Cambodia, Rwanda and Darfur. But the scars of each of these genocides are on us all as I saw at the ceremony yesterday. Listening to the stories of the survivors, hearing the words of those murdered and hearing the music of mourning, the enormity of our responsibility to remember was laid bare.
I attended four Holocaust ceremonies this week including the launch of the 70 Days for 70 Years project. The presence at each of communal, political and even royal leaders demonstrated the importance of commemoration. But possibly even more profound was the presence of young people, Jews but also non Jews, Muslims, Hindus, people who have barely even met a Jew yet who know already, even at a young age, that intolerance, hatred, racism and of course, anti-Semitism just have to stop.
At the reception yesterday, we entertained hundreds of survivors many with their grand children. We are indebted to these young people for carrying the message forwards but it is not their responsibility alone. This falls to every one of us, and for me, in the grandeur of Central Hall, with my own teenagers in the top balconies, my hopes turned to future generations, able to respect and celebrate people’s differences, and never again to hate people simply for who they are.