Holocaust Memorial Day 2021: be the light in the darkness


“Nobody asked who was Jewish and who was not. Nobody asked where you were from. Nobody asked who your father was or if you could pay. They just accepted each of us, taking us in with warmth, sheltering children, often without their parents—children who cried in the night from nightmares.”

Elizabeth Koenig-Kaufman, a former child refugee in Le Chambon.

Between 1940 and 1944, a small mountainous village in southern France gave sanctity to some five thousand Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazi regime in Europe. Whilst elsewhere many actively facilitated the extermination of six million Jews during this period, Le Chambon was the village that took a stand. So deep was their commitment that no resident of Le Chambon ever turned away nor betrayed a single refugee.

Their charity was indiscriminate, and their light never dimmed. Guiding hundreds across the border to a neutral Switzerland, and providing each individual with shelter and food, this community demonstrated exceptional courage in the midst of darkness. Le Chambon confronted one of the greatest crimes ever committed against humanity; they projected a beacon of light, and a beacon of hope that must never go unremembered.

Holocaust Memorial Day is marked each year on the 27th January, as it is the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1945. The theme this year is ‘Be the light in the darkness’; this message functions as a reminder of the collective responsibility to work for a brighter future for humanity. Perhaps even more poignant during the coronavirus pandemic, this theme serves as a tocsin that can sound for us all in our own period of darkness.

Within days of the announcement of the first national lockdown in 2020, over 750,000 people signed up to volunteer for the NHS; this figure is more than three times the number anticipated. This volunteer movement is just one of many recent collective responses to suffering and darkness, and one step closer to creating a world in which another Auschwitz would be unthinkable.

This year’s message functions as a reminder of the collective responsibility to work for a brighter future for humanity

So, what can we learn from the mass efforts of Le Chambon? In the words of Hungarian poet Hannah Szenes: “There are stars whose radiance is visible on Earth though they have long been extinct. There are people whose brilliance continues to light the world even though they are no longer among the living. These lights are particularly bright when the night is dark. They light the way for humankind.”

The overriding message of the 76th anniversary theme is clear: in the midst of darkness, light must persist. This theme is a call to action; it is a call that we can all respond to. As humans, we have a choice. We must come together, and we must choose to be the light in the darkness.

How you can get involved in Holocaust Memorial Day 2021:

January 26, 2021: The Durham University Jewish Society is hosting Noemie Lopian (Daughter of Holocaust survivors), and Derek Niemann (Grandson of an SS Officer). They are due to share their stories at 5pm via Zoom. Click here to sign up.

January 27, 2021:The first digital UK Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony will be streamed online at 7pm. Click here to register and watch the national ceremony. Join many across the country by lighting a candle in your window at 8pm. (If you are able to do this safely!)

Image by Olivia Kemp. Durham Cathedral during Lumiere Light Festival 2019.

One thought on “Holocaust Memorial Day 2021: be the light in the darkness

  • Wouldn’t it have been wonderful Henry Rogers if you had taken the time and trouble to write an article voicing your own opinions – instead of attacking a well meaning individual who simply wished to highlight the importance of Holocaust Memorial Day. It is not necessary to be a member of the Jewish Community to have the right to highlight and reflect on this anniversary. I believe that this was a sensitive piece of writing produced in the midst of a global pandemic affecting all faiths – with a message of hope and light. I also believe that many holocaust survivors would agree with me. In future, maybe pause for thought, to consider that we are all human beings with our differing beliefs and memories – light hope and consideration for others are what we need in the world at the moment. I firmly believe that the Writer achieved this – and I thank her as a member of the Jewish Community.


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