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Wednesday, 30 January, 2002, 17:19 GMT
Do we need a Holocaust Memorial Day?
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Ceremonies took place across Europe on Sunday to mark Holocaust Memorial Day, 57 years after the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp.
The events aim to commemorate the victims of Nazi persecution and ensure that such crimes are never repeated.
Critics say that the memorial commemorates the Holocaust at the expense of the victims of other genocides in Rwanda, Cambodia and Armenia.
Some even argue that Sunday's events should not take place at all while people continue to be persecuted around the world.
Do you think we need Holocaust Memorial Day? Can we learn from the mistakes of the past?
We took your calls on this subject in our phone-in programme, Talking Point On Air. The actress and human rights campaigner Janet Suzman and Ivan Lewis MP, who is a trustee of the Holocaust Educational Trust and a minister for youth education in the UK government, joined us in the studio.
This debate is now closed. Read your comments below.
I think it is important not to forget the past but we must move on to the future. The holocaust day as we know is not the only atrocity committed through the ages. The Crusades was another horror that should not be forgotten, in fact many races and cultures have been the victim of this type of retribution or genocide and have been long forgotten and put to rest. However, even in our day and age these events still go on and unless there is either a financial or political interest in their country they are left to die. I believe that now we should take a stand and demand the UN creates some kind of ruling on all acts of this kind and react with action to prevent any further holocaust in the future. Otherwise those people died in vain and however we decide to remember them we have not learnt a thing.
If someone wants to honour the victims of holocaust, war etc., then they should do so in there own private way. National "memorial "
days just drag up the past. Look to the future!
To forget is to condone. While we can't go on beating the German population over the head with their nazi past, we cannot let the largest organised mass extermination of a people go by without some form of remembrance.
Nikki, Middlesbrough, UK
I am only 16 and I suppose I don't know a lot about the holocaust, but I believe that if we do not spend time remembering the awful things that happened then the world leaders along with public would soon resort back to repeating these past incidents. As we all realise the horrible things that happened, just thinking about it could make a difference. We couldn't let this go on again, people would be outraged and show it, if a government in the future tried something like this again.
Let us remember all genocides. The first being the massacre of Armenians last century. They hadn't threatened anybody and the aim of the Ottoman Empire was the total destruction of their race. One and a half million Armenians perished in the most atrocious way. This is as tragic as the Jewish Holocaust - even more since it is not even recognised by many countries, including Britain.
Of all the "special" days that we have each year, I think the one to mark the Holocaust is probably the most important. What makes the Jewish slaughter so important is that it was carried out by one of the most civilised Nation on Earth, - Germany. The nation that had given us such beautiful music also gave us the Gas Chambers. And the day should be a reminder to us that every nation and country, and every individual has some trace of Fascism in them. I know that if I had been a German in the 1930's then I might well have joined the Nazi Party. And I wonder that if I had been ordered to help deport local Jews would I have had the courage to say "No" or would I have joined in with enthusiasm?
Jim Bogusz, Bolsover UK
I am in favour of Holocaust Memorial Day, but I think it should be renamed to encompass all forms of genocide and "ethnic cleansing" that occurred during the 20th Century. It is interesting that the Holocaust was fundamental in shaping world affairs and International Humanitarian Law since 1945 - with the introduction of "Crimes Against Humanity" and the UN Declaration of Human Rights for example - but this very same legislation has failed to protect innocent civilians (and combatants) in conflicts ever since. Some argue that we should not look back to the events of the past, as this was so long ago and we cannot change what happened. Maybe they are right, but history teaches us our "mistakes" and without moments of reflection, how can we expect to move forward and hopefully create a more peaceful society?
The Holocaust should be remembered. Always. On its own and as part of a general commemoration of genocide and suffering.
I would like to point out that the Holocaust is an example of not learning from the past. The Armenian Genocide occurred in WWI and yet we did not learn from it to prevent the Holocaust in WWII.
And we still have not learned from all the genocides. This unique atrocity, this simple "solution" to a "problem", will continue to happen around the world.
Yes, I agree with celebrating this day, if only to raise the consciousness of people worldwide that acts of inhumanity are no longer acceptable, or excusable. I would like to include remembrance of the famine which decimated the population of Ireland in the 19th century.
Mark von Sachsen, England
If as you say the events are aimed at stopping such atrocities and persecution in the future, then I am afraid they sadly miss their point. Look at the world around us; you don't have to die in a concentration camp to be remembered. Auschwitz is all around us!
There should be a day of remembrance. But lest we forget, like many others have said before me, that there were many Holocausts. Yes, the Nazis were unique in their methods, but so were the Hutus and Tutsis, the Khmer Rouge, the Serbs, the Croats, the Bosnians, the Albanians, the Russians, the Georgians, the Kazakhs, the Chinese, the Iraqis, the Turks, the Israelis, and many of the western world. Let the day of Remembrance truly be the day when we feel guilty, for all of us.
Toby Axelrod, Germany
Even Jewish sources agree that 3 million Poles were sent to die in camps. The majority of my family at the time were killed by the Nazi regime during the war. But there is an element of revisionism. The introduction to your programme noted Jews, Gypsies, gays and the handicapped, but apart from Jews the second biggest group exterminated were ethnic Poles. No one seems to recall the extermination of the Slavs for the German need for lebensraum (living room) in the east.
I think it is good idea to commemorate the Holocaust day. However, it is important to remember what we did or did not learn from this. It's sad to see that we focus only on Holocaust and forget other examples of genocide, for example, against Armenians, Bosnians and Palestinians and Kashmiri's and so on. The crimes commited at Sabra and Shatilla by Israelis, to me, are no less horrendous than the Holocaust. But the West chooses to remain rather silent.
I'm surprised just how many people here have completely missed the point. The purpose of Holocaust Memorial Day is to act as a focal point so that we don't forget what can happen at an extreme and so that we can prevent it from happening again. The fact that it has happened since 1945 on a smaller scale is simply indicative of what happens if we let ourselves become complacent.
It is quite absurd that the world celebrates a day the end of the Holocaust yet at the same time the world forget about the millions of Black Africans who were slaughtered during the Black Slave Trade and Slavery in the Western World. That's a grave injustice.
Although millions of Jews were sent to concentration camps and consequently murdered, they were not the only ones who suffered the Nazi persecutions. My father Dr. Stanislaw Sosnowski, solicitor, was arrested on 11 March 1940 at Dynow in eastern Poland and sent to a concentration camp in Oswiecim. He wasn't a Jew - his only crime was he was intelligent and had a phd.
Although he never talked much about his "experience", I remember him taking about French and Russian prisoners, who also were not Jews. So I'm asking you please mentioned today that there were many different nationalities persecuted and murdered by Nazis.
Thomas, Grays, Essex
Whilst practiced extensively by the Nazi regime, genocide was by no means restricted to nor originated by them. Stalin played his part in Polands "cleansing", as well as in other Eastern European states, and genocide was practised in the Balkans in the 1920's. Surely we have to show man's inhumanity to man throughout history. "Genocide Day" would have much more of an impact, and forces questions to be asked of ourselves - surely the ultimate objective.
I live in Germany and although there is no day or event to remind people of what happened, one has the impression that it is nevertheless constantly in the mind of all Germans whether they were alive or not at that time. They will certainly never forget or be allowed to forget. We should commemorate events that were in some way positive and leave these memories where they belong, not forgotten but not willingly remembered.
To learn about the history of the German Jews, I recommend visiting The Jewish Museum in Berlin. This institution is important for all Europeans who treated their fellow Jewish citizens badly.
Sue, London, England
Should we also have slavery day? Many people suffered and died at the hands of greedy nations.
Any day to remember genocide should be all-inclusive. We want to make sure that holocausts of all sorts are remembered to prevent them from reoccurring. It should be "never again," not an exclusive "never again to us."
Remembering the WWII Holocaust alone has apparently not saved us from similar genocides in the latter half of the 20th century. Spielberg's famous move Schindler's List came out in the early 1990s, and that same decade brutal holocausts happened in the Balkans and in Rwanda, as the international community looked on - apparently unwilling to do anything to stop it. How far has remembrance got us to this point?
Andy, Brit in Washington, DC
I don't think there should be a Holocaust Day in the UK as the UK neither perpetrated it nor, save a few thousand of our citizens, were we personally touched by it. That being said there cannot be any reason to commemorate this atrocity as opposed to any other.
Yes we do, but we also need to have a memorial day for the Bosnian holocaust where nearly half a million Bosnians were exterminated by the Serbs and their Yugoslav National Army and where nearly half of all Bosnians (like myself) were expelled from their country.
Regarding the education of pupils and students about the Jewish Holocaust, I can say from personal experience that in German schools this whole subject is treated excessively. The same is going on in German society. There is not a day where this subject is not discussed in the media to the point where it seems too much.
Rob Anderson, Henley, UK
The problem with a remembrance day is that it is only observed by those peoples touched by these atrocious acts. It isn't observed by those about to commit them.
Having said that I think it would be a good idea, because then those groups that suffered but are forgotten at least have their stories told and for this reason any Bank Holiday shouldn't focus solely on the Holocaust of the Jews, because as has already been pointed out, massive amounts of non-Jews died along with them and other purges, by Stalin, Pol Pot etc are just as atrocious and deserving of highlight.
Yes of course. However we should also have memorial days for other holocausts that have happened - some more horrible in proportion. The holocaust of 1.5 to 2 million Armenians killed by the Turks, the 2.7 million Soviet soldiers who died of starvation (and other means) in German hands in prison camps during the second world war. And what about the most horrific of all? The 19th and 18th century slave trade which destroyed 20 million African lives and destroyed family structures in those parts of Africa where slaves were taken from.
It must be emphasized that the Holocaust of six million or so Jews is not completely unique (this is the position of most West European and American historians).
As far as mass murder goes, people seem to forget Stalin¿s purges, where tens of millions were killed in prison camps. The Holocaust was a despicable act, but one of many in the 20th Century.
I would agree that the Jews who lost their lives for the sake of Hitler¿s plan to create a master race should be remembered by the whole world. I do not think this would be insulting to the people being persecuted at this present time as they would realise that the world does not take their deaths lightly - and that help is at hand. It would encourage them to be strong, the world is aware of what¿s going on and are doing their best to bring aid to them through political means.
The Holocaust was too long ago now - lets just forget about it. The people that died are long gone, nothing can bring them back.
Lets face it, most people in the UK have never even heard of the Holocaust.
Surely if, as Will claims, 'most people in the UK have never even heard of the Holocaust' (which I doubt!) then that makes a day of remembrance and education all the more vital. Not necessarily to show specifically what happened to the Jews, but also to remind people how even in a supposedly 'civilised' society, like Germany in the 1930's, many ordinary people can be made to commit horrendous acts against their neighbours in the name of hatred. We are all capable of these atrocities, even Will, and it doesn't hurt to be reminded about what can happen if we allow the state to do all our thinking for us.
Elliot Falk, London
Will Faulkner, Cheshire, UK -What the hell are you talking about? Of course the people of the UK have heard of the Holocaust. Don't tar the rest of the country with the brush of your ignorance.
Niall Kennedy, Glasgow, Scotland
No, I don't think so. If the EU wants to do something useful to ensure that it never happens again, get agreement to put it on the national curriculum of every school in Europe. There will be more long term benefit from teaching children how it happened, and how to stop it.
What differentiates the Holocaust to recent horrific acts of ethnic cleansing include:
1) The Germans were intent on killing ALL Jews. They started in Europe and if they would have won WWII, they would have moved on to other continents.
I have visited a number of the European Holocaust locations (Dachau/Belsen/Auschwtiz-Birkenau/Thereisenstadt) and believe that the Holocaust does have some defining features compared to other genocidal acts which makes it especially worth remembering (primarily the quasi-scientific racial aspect combined with the industrial efficiency). I worry, however that a Holocaust Day could easily overshadow memories of other horrors (such as your other correspondents describe) as well as risking trivialising the Holocaust itself - focusing on a few famous events/places and forgetting the majority. It would also be terrible if it were exploited by Israel as an attempt to justify some of its own morally dubious acts.
Today we still receive news of ethnic cleansing, and mass murders.
Will we really learn?
I think not, I believe we will continue to be a world of different races with different ideas.
I think I would agree that the only way to "remember" the Holocaust is through (non-political)education.
We have made the same mistakes for centuries, perhaps we have to accept that we not perfect.
Andrew Cover, UK
Yes, we should have a Holocaust Memorial Day. It was the single most evil act of genocide in Europe. However, perhaps other genocides could also be remembered on that day as well, such as in Rwanda and the genocide of the Cambodian people by Pol Pot.
Do we need a Slavery Memorial Day? Do we need a Native American Memorial Day? These are just as relevant.
Regrettably, I agree with TJ. We are most likely not able to learn from our mistakes. As long as the awesome machinery of modern government can occasionally fall under the control of demagogues, we will continue to see massacres, holocausts, and ethnic cleansing. Democracy occasionally puts demagogues in power, and we have seen (again and again) that government officials are always willing to do the dirty deeds with tragic efficiency.
Holocaust Memorial Day should be commemorated. It sickens me that some countries who have committed Genocide refuse to acknowledge their guilt, unlike Germany. When will others own up for their crimes?
Jews are not only the people who suffered in the 20th Century. Armenians, Rwandans, Ukrainians, the list is endless.
The day should commemorate all victims of ethnic cleansing, otherwise we will have remembrance days all over the place and the meaning will be lost. After all, we only have one poppy day, and while the origin is that of remembrance of the First World War soldiers, we now remember all soldiers that have died in battle on our behalf.
Sandra is mistaken in thinking that the Holocaust was an example of "ethnic cleansing." It was the attempt by a "modern" nation to totally annihilate another nation. The Nazis didn't want the Jews out, they wanted them dead, for no other reason than the fact that they were Jews. This is the enormity and the uniqueness of the Holocaust, and why it reigns as the foremost example of cruelty and genocide.
Joel from Jerusalem is wrong. Although the Nazis did persecute and send Jews to the gas chambers, they also did the same to others too, like gypsies and homosexuals. Furthermore, it wasn't an attempt to annihilate a nation - many Jews live outside Europe and many of them still believe, wrongly of course, that European Jews were punished for some sins Jews were supposed to have committed. We shouldn't have a Holocaust Day but rather should remember the victims of all atrocities, including the Arab victims of Palestine, who were either killed or driven from their homes by the very people who claimed to have suffered in Europe.
There is no need for a Holocaust Day in this present day. I believe the Holocaust was vastly exaggerated anyway and was more of a propaganda tool. The more we are forced to remember these atrocities, the more unlikely it will be for world peace.
Could Alan from London enlighten us which aspect of the Holocaust was vastly exaggerated? Was it the organised murder of six million Jewish people? Or was it the organised murder of five million others - gypsies, gay people, disabled people, trade unionists and socialists, religious minorities? Which of these does Alan decree we should now forget?
Johny Abboud, UK
We should certainly have a Holocaust Memorial Day, although I agree that it should include the victims of other genocides.
It galls me somewhat that we have Remembrance Day in the UK to remember those who fought and died in the War, but no way of remembering those who weren't in the military but were killed anyway.
If we're going to continue to honour military personnel who died in the wars, we should also honour those who didn't have a choice, and I include here all those who were conscripted and forced to fight and die, and those that were shot for alleged 'cowardice' during the first two World Wars.
Yes, we need a Holocaust Memorial Day, and people should remember that the first one, last year, commemorated ALL acts of genocide (Armenia, Rwanda, Bosnia etc), not just the Holocaust itself. A memorial day is important to ensure that the likes of David Irving and Assad of Syria (who says the Holocaust is a "Jewish lie") never drown out the voices of those who died in the camps and of those who are dying elsewhere today.
I think we need to move forward. People have made mistakes in history. The world is a small place and we need to learn and move forward for the sake of our children and their future. We need to forgive and learn from the past.
There should definitely be a Holocaust Memorial Day. Acknowledging that there have been other atrocities on the grandest of scales throughout the world is important, but no one can argue against the fact that the Nazi actions were unique. The Holocaust was more shameful than any other event in human history and a day to commemorate that would do the world a lot of good.
The memorial day should remain for now. However, these kind of memorial events should be time limited. To remember all historical horrors all the time is unhealthy. The long memories of the Slavs and the Irish for terrible events in their pasts have led to the continuing problems today. Every now and again, history must be forgotten for people and nations to move on.
To Christine - "we let it happen all over again" so many times and in so many places since the Holocaust that it boggles the mind. "The minute we forget" happened maybe even before Nuremberg trials were over. Memorials of this kind will never prevent future atrocities. Their primary function is to help people feel less guilty about their passivity in relation to current genocides.
Why the Holocaust? It was so long ago after all. Let's remember millions more who have been slaughtered in other places in more modern times. It wasn't the first massacre and it won't be the last. Instead of making it a "special day" that everyone ignores. Why not try and set up a world court for war criminals that provides justice? I mean look at the difference in treatment of prisoners across the world. Al-Qaeda prisoners are kept in cages while Milosevic, who killed many more, is in a penthouse cell. An international court would bring balance and if it were named after the Holocaust people, it would provide a suitable reminder.
Humankind has, throughout history, shown itself to be capable of terrible inhumanity. We need to be constantly reminded of our past so that we can strive to improve our future. Whether this happens through a single day of world remembrance or through smaller events of regional or national significance is a matter that I, an Englishman whose people have not suffered Genocide, feel unqualified to comment upon.
Calling it Holocaust Memorial Day is exclusive - why should the Nazis' crimes against humanity be highlighted any more than those of Stalin's purges in the USSR in the 1930s, the Armenian genocide at the turn of last century, Pol Pot's vile excesses in Cambodia or the Spanish Inquisition? I feel we should call it Victims of Inhumanity Day to highlight the fact that we need to remember all such horrors.
I agree with David Moran. By all means have a day to remember those killed by brutal politics - but I wouldn't support one that focuses mostly on Nazis. Maybe we should focus on what crimes the British nation has committed, otherwise the danger is that we think that crimes against humanity are only carried out in the past, and ignore what might happen in the world today.
I agree with Duncan Hurwood. I think a homogenised day of remembrance is less potent than one where each country and each nation focusses on their own episodes of shame. Only by each country reflecting internally will the lessons be brought home to us.
What about an international genocide day where we remember all the victims of all of the holocausts? We could even couple it to a fundraising drive to help the survivors of holocausts such as those in Rwanda.
"I am confident that the whole history of the human race contains no such horrible episode as this. The great massacres and persecutions of the past seem almost insignificant when compared to the sufferings of the Armenian race in 1915."
A quotation from Henry Morgenthau, Senior US Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire.
Clair, Bangor, Wales
I think it is important to remember the atrocities that have been done in the past, BUT only to the extent that it helps share the suffering of the families that underwent the tragedy AND ensure that we, as mankind, do not repeat the same EVER again. There is no value in a Holocaust Day if that diminishes the lives lost in Chile, East Timor, Vietnam among others.
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