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Remarks given by Senior Programme Manager, Rob Thompson, at the Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government’s Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration 2019

It is a privilege to be able to share with you some of my experience of the impact of Holocaust Memorial Day in communities around the UK.

I work for the Council of Christians and Jews which is the UK’s oldest interfaith charity and the only UK organisation working specifically to educate the Christian community about the Holocaust. This centres on an annual seminar at the International School of Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem.

The purpose of our seminar is to educate Christian clergy about the Holocaust and, crucially, to equip them as community leaders to return to the UK and pass on their learning in their churches, their local schools, and across their communities. As our seminar takes place in the autumn every year, the most immediate opportunity for clergy to respond to their learning at Yad Vashem is to mark Holocaust Memorial Day in January.

I’d like to share just some examples from many of how the alumni of our programme are marking Holocaust Memorial Day and how these acts of commemoration are making a difference in their communities.

  • In Southwark, one previous participant in our Yad Vashem seminar organised and led a workshop on Holocaust Memorial Day. There were 14 participants in the workshop, all staff members of the Board of Education for the Church of England Diocese of Southwark. They went away equipped to mark HMD in the 106 local Church of England schools that they are responsible for, able to reach thousands of young people across Southwark.
  • In Sutton Coldfield in the West Midlands, a Catholic priest collected children’s testimony from the Holocaust, produced a worksheet of quotations, and created a film of children in his local Catholic Secondary School reading these quotations. For Holocaust Memorial Day, the school is sharing both the worksheet and film with other schools across the area, enabling a great opportunity for schools to work together in their Holocaust Memorial Day commemorations.
  • Last week in Nottinghamshire, a Methodist minister who participated in our seminar back in 2011 held an ‘antisemitism-awareness’ day for HMD, with contributions from the Board of Deputies, the Community Security Trust, and the local Member of Parliament, exploring how communities can detect and challenge contemporary antisemitism. Holocaust survivor Eva Schloss also gave her testimony. Not only did this event reach out to his local Christian community, they also invited members of a local Jewish community so that people of different faiths could work together to challenge hatred and strengthen communities for the future.
  • One final example: on our most recent Yad Vashem seminar we took the Education Officer from Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford. For Holocaust Memorial Day this year, she is organising a whole day of very special activities. It will begin with a talk at the Oxford Synagogue, followed by a friendship walk between the synagogue and Christ Church Cathedral, which stands on the area which was the Medieval Jewish Quarter of Oxford. At Christ Church the participants will view an exhibition entitled ‘Never Again’ and reflect on this year’s theme for HMD: ‘Torn from Home’.

As these examples show, most movingly I think in the image of a friendship walk between a synagogue and a cathedral through a busy city centre, Holocaust Memorial Day is a powerful opportunity for people to remember the past, not just as an individual exercise, but also as a collective, community responsibility.

It is by inspiring people to come together to witness to the Holocaust, to remember the truth of history, and to commit to a better future, that we can pass on the ‘hope’ which Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel reminds us can only be given ‘by one human being to another’.

In this way, Holocaust Memorial Day is able to make a profound difference and lasting impact in communities around the UK.