Be the light in the darkness – Holocaust Memorial Day goes online

Yesterday‘s Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony was streamed online for the first time, among those speaking was Hastings and Rye MP Sally-Ann Hart – here’s what she had to say.

Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) was established in 2000 and is marked on January 27th, the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration and death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. Each year, HMD has a different theme and this year, the theme is Be the Light in the Darkness.

Being a ‘Light in the Darkness’ is something that we have witnessed much of this past year or so, due to the pandemic we are enduring. We have seen individuals and community groups shed light into and onto peoples’ lives, rescuing the elderly and most vulnerable, showing kindness and calling to action to help fellow men and women in this time of need and trauma. 

Darkness comes in many forms and one of the darkest clouds in history was the Holocaust, which truly was unique. The singular mass murder of six million Jewish men, women and children and many others remains a scar on civilisation. 

“We must always protect free speech and guard against any agenda which seeks to limit our freedoms…”

Rightly, we say never again, and talk about the lessons of the Holocaust, as is our responsibility and our duty, but in the wake of the pandemic, amid rising hate crime and prejudice, we find ourselves reflecting on this and asking whether we truly understand what that means and whether we have indeed learned.

One of the educational journeys which several parliamentarians have been on, has been about the use of tropes, misinformation and language. 

Sally-Ann Hart says that online, it is all too easy to become a signpost for antisemitism. 

The Nazis used particular terms to disguise their murderous ambitions. As the US Holocaust Museum explains, Sonderbehandlung, or ‘special treatment’ meant execution. Endlösung, or ‘final solution’ was as we know, the mass murder of the Jewish people.

In recent times, including the past few months and weeks, we have seen other terms, words, or names used, often misappropriated, by modern-day Nazis. Who would have known that enclosing a name in triple parentheses on the internet, a so-called ‘echo’ would become an antisemitic guide to identifying Jewish people online? 

Without an understanding of antisemitic tropes or dog-whistles, many might think references to the Rothschilds, George Soros, liberal elites, or cultural Marxism were simply that. These words should not mean anything else, but we must accept that they can and that online, it is all too easy to become a signpost for antisemitism. 

In my own ignorance about this, I have inadvertently fallen into this trap.

What does it mean to say Never Again? How do we learn the lessons of the Holocaust? The answer is education and to understand that the Holocaust did not begin in Auschwitz, it began with regular interactions turned sour, with suspicion, discrimination, hatred and denial. It began with exclusion, with racist jokes, and with coded language; we must educate about the language.

We cannot leave it to the survivors of the Holocaust to share their testimony – the responsibility rests with all of us to ‘Be the Light in the Darkness’ today. We must always protect free speech and guard against any agenda which seeks to limit our freedoms in that regard, but we can also avoid, address, and fight back against hate speech. 

Many people lit their own candles to mark the day.

The former Chief Rabbi, the late great Lord Rabbi Sacks had it right when he explained that, “the world our children will inherit tomorrow is born in the schools we build today”. In the case of these tropes and online harms, we must school wider society.

There is a particular responsibility for local councillors and parliamentarians in the language we use. We have seen across the world that public figures can sow words of division, distrust and hatred or use their platforms to spread words of calm, peace, inspiration and kindness. 

My commitment, on Holocaust Memorial Day, is to continue to learn. To find out more about antisemitism. To seek to guide others as to the potential for mistakenly falling into the use or proliferation of hateful materials and to always seek to use my platform for good. I want to play an active part in ensuring that we know what it means to say Never Again and to ensure that we can all Be the Light in the Darkness today. 

  • To watch the elements of the ceremony and read the presentation that was prepared for this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day, click this link
  • https://www.hastings.gov.uk/hmd/

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