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Holocaust Memorial Day

Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) has taken place in the UK since 2001, with a UK event and over 2,000 local activities taking place on or around 27 January each year. This date marks the liberation in 1945 of Auschwitz death camp in Poland from Nazi forces by Russian forces  in the final months of the Second World War. The UK played a leading role in establishing HMD as an international day of commemoration in 2000, when 46 governments signed the Stockholm Declaration.

Between 1941 and 1945, the Nazis attempted to annihilate all of Europe’s Jews. This systematic and planned attempt to murder European Jewry is known as the Holocaust (The Shoah in Hebrew). However, not only were Jews the target of Nazi extermination. Many other groups were as well; these were people who were deemed to be sub human or unnecessary or undesirable and included gypsies and Romany, homosexuals and the disabled in all forms.

Citizenship teachers in schools are encouraged to use this time to help pupils and students explore some of the key aspects of genocide-of which the Holocaust was one example. The term ‘genocide’ was first used in 1933, in a paper presented to the League of Nations by the Polish lawyer, Raphael Lemkin. He devised the concept in response to the atrocities perpetrated against the Armenian population of the Turksih Empire, between 1915 and 1918-an act which is the centre of a dispute currently with the Turkish government and is unresolved.

On 11 December 1946 the General Assembly of the United Nations resolved that genocide was a crime under international law.  This was approved and ratified as a Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide on 9 December 1948.  The Convention defines genocide as:‘any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

  • killing members of the group
  • causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group
  • deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part
  • imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group
  • forcibly transferring children of the group to another group

Exploring genocide and the Holocaust with pupils and students is not an easy undertaking. They need preparing; the work must be in context and have meaning and legacy. Citizenship teachers should cross check with other subject colleague’s progression in sharing the theme. Teachers should also ensure that before starting such work they refer to guidance on teaching about controversial and topical issues. Citized has downloads on Briefing Students and also Controversy for Beginners.

It is important to consider discussing how genocide happens-it is never random, always planned; see more at Genocide Watch. Look at specific genocide examples, including the Holocaust. There are many sources of information including www.hmd.org.uk and  www.genocidewatch.org Teachers can download the pack fro HMD 2014.

There are also the less known examples of genocide in the Ukraine for example-where the deliberate starvation of people by the Russian leader Stalin in the 1930’s is known as the Holodomor. More can be seen at http://www.holodomor.org.uk/ 

There is also dispute about genocide-as cited above regarding the Armenians and also the Palestinians. Teachers may choose to explore the controversies surrounding these. Sources to start from on Armenia include the BBC

In Europe since 1945 there have been the genocides during the brutal wars in the Balkans in the 1990’s in Bosnia and Kosovo. Teachers can find information about the Kosovo war and about the Bosnia war at Through My Eyes.

Much has also been written about the genocide in Rwanda and Sudan in Africa. There is an excellent resource on the British Red Cross site and more about the genocide in Darfur in Sudan can be found here

The British Red Cross also produce information about the need to pursue perpetrators of genocide and how international humanitarian law and courts work.

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