Holocaust Memorial Day
Kirstin Innes discovers why Holocaust Memorial Day is so important to contemporary Scotland
For most of Scotland, the end of January means Burns Night. Whisky, tradition and rousing renditions of ‘A Man’s A Man For A’ That’; a time for national nostalgia and a noisy assertion, however fleeting, of equality. Perhaps it’s fitting then that a smaller, if no less vocal group of activists, are using the same time to contemplate past events in very different ways.
The first UK-wide Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) was 27 January 2001, the date chosen to mark the anniversary of the liberation of Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. While no-one could seriously doubt the value of the occasion itself, it may seem odd to some people – why are we now marking something that happened over sixty years ago?
I spoke to Louise Hector, who is responsible for co-ordinating regional events throughout the UK. ‘HMD is important not just as a way of commemorating the people who lost their lives in the Holocaust and later genocides but also as a recognition that today there are people who are still discriminated against due to their race, religion, disabilities and sexuality,’ she explained. ‘HMD commemorations show the consequences of extreme exclusion and, hopefully, prompt individuals to challenge discrimination where it happens.’
Commemorations will be taking place around Scotland and the UK, but rather than the brief static silence of Remembrance Sunday, they’re designed to make people interact and respond to the issues raised. For 2008, organisers have been encouraged to theme their events around the statement, ‘Imagine . . . remember, reflect, react.’
‘This year’s theme is about the creativity and culture lost during the Holocaust,’ Hector says. ‘The discrimination against Jews in particular started with the banning of Jewish composers and the burning of Jewish books. The developing gay scene in Berlin was attacked too – clubs were shut down. As with all genocide, it wasn’t just an attempt to kill a people. It’s an attack on their culture too.’
An increasingly large number of venues are taking part in HMD, from schools to arts venues like the Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh. The biggest event in Scotland is happening at Glasgow’s People’s Palace on HMD itself. To tie into their current exhibition – about Glasgow merchant John Glassford and his involvement in the slave trade – the People’s Palace is programming a day of reflection about human rights abuses, with music, poetry and interactive art. Rabbi Nancy Morris of the Glasgow Reform Synagogue will lead a discussion, and visitors are encouraged to express their responses to the issues raised with words and drawing, eventually creating a new, collaborative piece of art.
‘It’s important to use the lessons of the past to create more cohesive communities today,’ Hector says. ‘“Remember, reflect, react” is sort of a pass for people to take – remembering the past, reflecting on what’s going on around us all today, reacting and acting together to create a better future.’
Holocaust Memorial Day is on Sun 27 Jan. See listings for information about specific events or visit www.hmd.org.uk