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Holocaust Memorial Day 2016: Don't Stand By

‘HMD is a time when we seek to learn the lessons of the past and to recognise that genocide does not just take place on its own, it’s a steady process which can begin if discrimination, racism and hatred are not checked and prevented’ (HMD website, January 2016)

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 the 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 Turkish 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, ethical, 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

Don’t stand by is the theme for Holocaust Memorial Day 2016. Why this focus?

The Holocaust and previous and subsequent genocides took place because the local populations allowed this to happen. Whilst some actively supported or facilitated state policies of persecution and indeed murder, there was a vast majority stood by silently. Perhaps they were afraid, perhaps they thought what they saw or heard about was random or would not last. Perhaps they were simply indifferent - they were not being persecuted so why get involved? These bystanders enabled genocide. In Nazi Germany they enabled the Holocaust. In respect of persecution, victimisation, racism, xenophobia or harassment, standing by equates to support. Individuals must always ask themselves ‘What can I do?’ Simple actions start by being aware about the nature of persecution, genocide and Holocaust.

Getting involved in HMD 2016 can begin with the activities and resources from the HMD website - there are films, activities for assemblies and lessons, in the community and in school. There are versions for each jurisdiction of the United Kingdom.

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 colleagues' 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.

There is some powerful artwork to provoke discussion by concentration camp and ghetto prisoners from the Nazi era. Currently these are on display in Berlin and feature art works from 50 persons, 24 of whom were murdered. Created under inhumane conditions in great secrecy they show vividly the hatred and bitter experiences the artists endured. Some show almost fantastical scenes, perhaps as a counter to the torture of everyday existance.

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 1930s is known as the Holodomor.

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 1990s, especially in Bosnia.

Much has also been written about the genocide in Rwanda and Sudan in Africa. There is more about the genocide in Darfur in Sudan.

Students often ask about how perpatrators are punished or if they are ever caught and brought to trial. The British Red Cross produce information about the need to pursue perpetrators of genocide and how international humanitarian law and courts work. There is information on the UN International Criminal Court from the BBC as well.


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