Holocaust Memorial Day

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Holocaust Memorial Day falls on January 27 each year, the date Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated in 1945.

This year, on the 65th anniversary of the liberation, the theme is ‘Legacy of Hope’. The day was created to commemorate the victims and survivors of genocides that occurred during the 20th and 21st centuries, to remember the crimes committed and to use education as a tool to ensure such horrific events would never happen again. The genocides remembered on this date are the Holocaust, the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, the Bosnian and Rwandan genocides, and the atrocities currently taking place in Darfur.

This year a Holocaust Memorial Day event will take place on the 30th January at Southampton Solent University, in the Sir James Matthews Building, Above Bar, from 6-7pm. There will be a short film about The Windermere Boys, the name given to those who began a new life in Windermere after leaving Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia. The 300 children, mainly boys, had been in ghettos and concentration camps, and many had witnessed their parents being murdered. There will also be readings from local school students, and a recorded survivor testimony with Ben Helfgott, who came to Southampton University after the war. Organised by the Parkes Institute and Oasis Academy, Lordshill, all are welcome to attend.

The Holocaust

There were over 400,000 members of the Nazi party when Hitler became Chancellor, and he continued to feed anti-semitism.On becoming Fuhrer in 1934 he changed governmental practice, passing a law that allowed Nazis to pass laws without any parliamentary approval.

Dachau was the first concentration camp, established on March 23 1933, but the number rose to approximately 20,000, including forced labour, transit and extermination camps in German-occupied countries. At arrival at a concentration camp, often in severely overcrowded cattle trucks where they had been held without food or toilets for several days, they faced a selection process. Pregnant women, babies, young children, the elderly and the disabled rarely passed selection.

Those selected for death were led to the gas chambers, often told they were being taken for a shower. Clothes and valuables were removed before they were locked in, and either carbon monoxide or Zyklon-B was pumped into the chambers, taking up to 20 minutes to kill everyone in the chamber. Camp prisoners were then forced to remove the bodies and any hair, gold teeth or fillings, before corpses were burned in ovens within the crematoria or buried in mass graves.

Cambodia

Genocide began after the radical communist movement Khmer Rouge took power in 1975 under the leadership of Pol Pot, after many years of guerilla warfare. Based on the communist model of Mao’s China, anybody who did not fit the model was made to leave, or killed if they stayed.

Like other genocides, the ill, disabled, young and old were not considered any differently, forced to leave because they were unable to work as labourers in one huge federation of collective farms. Minority groups were also victims of the Khmer Rouge’s racism, with the ethnic Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai, as well as Cambodians with Chinese, Vietnamese or Thai ancestry forced to leave or murdered. Buddhism was eliminated and within two years there were no functioning monasteries left in Cambodia, half the Cham Muslim population was murdered, as well as 8,000 Christians. Civil rights were abolished, music and religion banned, and people were killed for laughing, crying or wearing glasses. Schools, universities and hospitals were closed, and doctors, lawyers, teachers and other professionals were murdered to prevent an uprising. 2 million people died.

Bosnia

Between 1992 and 1995, at least 7,500 men and boys over the age of 13 were killed in the Bosnian genocide. Back in 1980, the population of Bosnia consisted of Bosnian Serbs, Bosniaks (Sunni Muslim), and Bosnian Croats, and when Yugoslavia disintegrated, Bosnia declared independence in 1992. The Bosnian Serb segment of the population resisted this, determined for political domination, and were willing to isolate and then exterminate ethnic groups in order to secure a future as part of ‘Greater Serbia’.

In July 1995 Bosnian Serb troops and paramilitaries led by Ratko Mladic descended on Srebrenica and began shelling it. Despite being declared a safe zone by the United Nations, Bosnian Serb forces prevailed. Women and children were forced onto trucks and buses, men and boys remained. The deportation of Srebrenica’s population took 4 days.

Rwanda

100 days. 1,000,000 murdered. This was the genocide in Rwanda that started on April 6th 1994, after the Tutsis were accused of killing the president. The Hutu civilians were informed over the radio and by word of mouth that it was their duty to wipe out firstly every Hutu that was not anti-Tutsi, and then to kill every Tutsi.

The murders occurred in thousands of schools and churches, and like the other genocides of the 20th century, the gender and age of Tutsis was insignificant. Many were murdered by people they knew. One day people were neighbours, friends, workmates and even relatives through marriage, and the next they were willing to kill former acquaintances in cold blood. Machetes and clubs were the weapons of choice, easily accessible and simple to use. The civilian death squads, the Interahamwe, trained killers while the state used politicians, professional soldiers and intellectuals to incite the killers to commit acts of murder, and local officials helped round up victims and made venues available for mass slaughter.

Darfur

Darfur is a region to the West of Sudan, in North-East Africa. Since 2003 a civil war has been fought between the six million people who lived in Darfur, over half of which are Black Africans, the rest Arabs. The war is between the sedentary population of farmers (mainly Africans), and nomadic population who regard themselves as Arabic, and who are supported by the Sudanese Government.

There have been between 200,000 and 400,000 deaths, with 2.5 million now displaced. Another two million people rely on international assistance, making the total number of civilians affected by the conflict to over four million.

Rwandan Testimony: My name is Clare. I am a survivor of the Rwandan genocide. This is my testimony. I was born in Kibuye, Gitesi. I was married to Leonel. Both he and my two children were killed in the genocide. Only my brother and I survived. I am now 30 years old. At the time, we were living in Muhima where my husband was a technician for Radio Rwanda and I was a trader. When the genocide began my daughter was away working in Kibungo. We waited for her to come home, but we ourselves were in danger. I found out later that my daughter had been killed at her grandfather’s home.On the 11th of April, the killings began. I was taken captive, and experienced all forms of torture. I was beaten and hit badly. I was forced to drink blood from dead and injured people.

Holocaust Testimony: Anita Lasker-Wallfisch My first encounter with antisemitism was at the school I attended. I was eight years old. I was about to wipe the blackboard and one of the children said, “Don’t give the Jew the sponge.” This is a long time ago, but I have never forgotten it. Then suddenly some children spat at me in the street and called me a dirty Jew. I did not really understand what was going on. One just had to accept that one was different. One did not belong to the master race.After the 9th November, Kristallnacht (Night of the Broken Glass), synagogues were burnt down, Jewish shops smashed up and looted, and private homes invaded and demolished. The majority of the male population was arrested and the expression “concentration camp” became part of the vocabulary.

Cambodian Testimony: Sophal Leng Stagg Twenty years and what seems like a dozen lifetimes have passed since the events that I describe in the following words transpired and, although I can now look back with less emotion, the memories of that time are as vivid as if they happened yesterday. I cannot completely explain my reasons for the need to write about these experiences except as a testimony to those whose lives were lost and can no longer speak for themselves.On the night of April 16, 1975 we were awakened by the terrible sounds of bombs and guns, close at hand. The explosions were so near that our house shook with each burst. To the mind of a terrified nine-year-old girl, it seemed that the gunfire was aimed directly at me. My parents led us to a shelter underneath the house and there, in total darkness, my mother clutched my sister Chan and me to her body and comforted us with her warmth and love. Although she must have been frightened as we were, her first thought was for the safety of her children. Needless to say none of us slept that night.

(Testimonies have been taken from the Holocaust Memorial Day website)

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