By Neil Martin
‘Build it and they will come’ – that was the advice I was given when we first muted the idea of a large-scale event to mark the 70th anniversary since Liberation this Yom HaShoah. Now with over 3000 already registered in advance to attend, and over 120 communal organisations joining the ‘Remember Together - We Are One’ Commemoration, the dream has truly become a reality, as this Sunday (19th April) will see the largest Holocaust Remembrance event EVER held in the UK.
But dare I say it, as remarkable as it is, it’s still not enough and we can do better – not for my sake, but the survivors and refugees of our community who deserve your support, for what many are calling ‘the last of the big anniversaries’.
The Holocaust was the most significant and tragic event of the modern Jewish people. But as time has passed, it is perhaps understandable that for some, empathy has begun to wane and it is now easier to become complacent about what actually happened during the Holocaust as it begins to fade out of living memory and is presented in a much more sanitised version.
However, 70 years ago today on the 15th April 1945, the British Army liberated Bergen Belsen, and what they found was beyond comprehension. The horrors they saw, which were shown as part of the recent documentary ‘Night Will Fall’, showed the true hell of the Holocaust where 10,000 corpses lay unburied (taking British soldiers over two weeks to bury) and with many of those that survived seriously ill with typhus, typhoid, dysentery, tuberculosis and starvation resulting in a further 13,000 dying in the months after liberation.
When you hear the first-hand accounts of survivors, like 90 year old Eva Behar, who survived both Auschwitz and Bergen Belsen (and who will be recounting her testimony at Sunday’s commemoration), the stark realities of what they experienced and were forced to endure is simply beyond words. Like Eva, I have been so privileged to meet and work alongside some truly remarkable individuals in my role as Chair of Yom HaShoah UK. These survivors and refugees have given so much to the Jewish community and to wider society in the last 70 years, and despite all that life has thrown at them, they have somehow managed to rebuild their lives in the UK and are a shining example to us all.
Notwithstanding the unimaginable horrors of the Holocaust, Sunday’s ceremony is designed to be appropriate for all ages and should be witnessed and remembered by everyone. So please bring your children with you, as a commemoration of this size and scale, and in the presence of so many survivors and refugees, is unlikely to ever be possible again.
If you haven’t yet applied for your ticket, it’s not too late. You can register online right up until the Sunday morning itself at www.yomhashoah.org.uk/nationalevent for tickets and parking permits. If you’re reading this on Sunday morning, don’t worry. Whilst you won’t be able to get a parking permit unless you apply online, you can still get an entrance ticket at the gate as long as you’re at Barnet Copthall Stadium no later than 1pm with photo ID, where one of our volunteers will be happy to register you.
If you are one of the 3000+ people already attending, then we have one final ask: whether your preference is to share on social media or to discuss round the Friday night dinner table, please help spread the word in the coming days and encourage others to attend and become a witness to this unique moment in time.
Holocaust Survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Elie Wiesel famously said: “When you listen to a witness, you become a witness”. As survivors grow fewer in number, the 70th year MUST be the year that the UK Jewish community commits to keep the memory alive and continue their legacy of remembrance.
Whether you always attend your local Yom HaShoah or HMD event, or have been on an educational day-trip to Poland, or were part of the UK delegation on the March of the Living in the last few years – this is the event where we can all reaffirm to remember the loss of six million men, women and children – but not just our own individual pledge, but as a community.
On Sunday we will show the survivors and refugees that British Jewry is ready and willing to accept the torch of remembrance and pledge to keep their memory alive as we remember together as one – and defiantly say as proud British Jews ‘Never Again!’
Chair, Yom HaShoah UK