Durham commemorates Holocaust Memorial Day

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On 27th January, Durham commemorated Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD), an opportunity of remembrance for the 6 million Jews murdered during the Holocaust, alongside millions of people of other groups persecuted under the Nazi regime’s genocide.

The day, which marks the anniversary of the liberation of the concentration at Auschwitz on 27th January 1945, encourages reflection on modern genocides, and provides an opportunity to stand against prejudice and hatred. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, where the Rwandan government backed the murder of an estimated one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

As a sign of commemoration, Durham’s Castle and Cathedral were lit up in purple alongside many other iconic buildings and landmarks across the UK. Every year, the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust encourages the lighting of candles as part of the “light the darkness” moment of reflection. This year 6 million candles were lit, representing the 6 million lives lost during the Holocaust.

An event was held in Durham Cathedral this year, with Rob Rinder, the TV show host and barrister, who shared his family’s experience of surviving the Nazis. During his speech, he invited people to “reflect on the fragility of freedom”. 

Mr Rinder’s grandfather was one of 300 “Windermere children” who managed to escape and begin new lives in the Lake District after the defeat of the Nazis. He hopes that young people listening to his story will “go into the world understanding how democracy requires each and every one of them to preserve, to protect and to defend it.” The Cathedral also hosted the “Surviving Belsen” display and an exhibition reflecting the killings of Gypsies during the Second World War.

As a sign of commemoration, Durham’s Castle and Cathedral were lit up in purple alongside many other iconic buildings and landmarks across the UK

Several events were held within the University. On 26th January Stephenson College and Durham University Jewish Society (JSoc) held a remembrance event. Dr Bea Lewkowicz was invited to speak, exploring the testimonies of three Holocaust survivors, in the context of this year’s theme of the “fragility of freedom”, as well as poetry readings, and the lighting of candles. On 27th January, University College and JSoc hosted an event based on the “fragility of freedom”, discussing the ten stages of genocide, through the stories of people whose freedom was gradually restricted, and who were often murdered.

St Aidan’s College hosted the Porrajmos Exhibition between 22nd January to 2nd February, featuring the story of the persecution and deaths of estimated hundreds and thousands of Roma and Sinti Gypsies during the Second World War. The event spoke of personal stories from the lives of those affected, giving people the opportunity to further understand Gypsy, Roma and Traveller history. 

Last year’s outreach officer for Durham University Jewish Society wrote a post on the University’s The Durham Student blog describing what Holocaust Memorial Day means to her. She wrote that “this day reminds society today of the severe danger of letting discrimination go unchecked.”

“Having visited Yad Vashem, the National Holocaust Memorial site in Israel, I was deeply motivated to think about how I can personally ensure that the Holocaust is never forgotten. It is not just a day that we remember and commemorate all the victims, but marks a precedent for every day, to never forget the atrocity and the systemic murdering of whole generations.”

Image: Durham Cathedral lit up for Holocaust Memorial Day in 2021 (Imogen Usherwood) 

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