Why was the 27th January chosen as Holocaust Memorial Day?
- That day, 27th January, is the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration and extermination camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau (Poland). This camp of death symbolises for many of the horrors of the Holocaust.
- Following the Stockholm Forum on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research in 2000 this day was chosen by the Governments of a number of other European countries to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust, including Sweden, Italy, Germany, Finland, Denmark and Estonia.
- The 27th January is therefore the European Day against Genocide.
Why have a memorial Day?
The Aims of Holocaust Memorial Day are to:
- Remember all victims of the Holocaust and Nazi persecution – Jews, Freemasons, Roma and Sinti [Gypsies], East European civilians, Russian prisoners of war, trade unionists, Communists, political opponents, disabled people, Jehovah’s Witnesses, gay men and lesbians and Black Germans.
- To provide a focus for everyone to consider the consequences of modern day atrocities such as those in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Kosovo.
- To provide the basis for the education of all about the dangers of anti-Semitism, racism and all forms of discrimination.
These aims are set out in more detail in the Holocaust Memorial Day Statement of Purpose which you can read by clicking here.
How did the Holocaust Memorial Day established come to be established?
The “Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research” was created, in May 1998, by the Swedish, UK and US Governments and were later joined by Germany, Israel, Poland, the Netherlands, France and Italy.
That year a Conference about Holocaust-Era Assets was held in Washington D.C. in December 1998 and Task Force members issued a joint declaration stating, inter alia, that:
“Holocaust education, remembrance and research strengthen humanity’s ability to absorb and learn from the dark lessons of the past, so that we can ensure that similar horrors are never again repeated.”
That declaration further stated:
“we are committing our countries to encourage parents, teachers, and civic, political and religious leaders to undertake with renewed vigour and attention Holocaust education, remembrance and research, with a special focus on our own countries’ history.”
The following year, on the 10th June 1999, in answer to a parliamentary question from Andrew Dismore MP, the Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon Tony Blair MP, said:
“I am determined to ensure that the horrendous crimes against humanity committed during the Holocaust are ever forgotten. The ethnic cleansing and killing that have taken place in Europe in recent weeks are a stark example of the need for vigilance.”
The Home Office, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for Education and Employment (now the Dept. of Education and Skills), the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and the London Borough of Barnet together with a number of organisations and associations concerned with education and remembrance of the Holocaust, brought forward suggestions for more wide ranging consultation on the subject of Holocaust remembrance.
A major consultation exercise commenced in 1999 and 1,000 organisations and individuals were invited to comment on proposals for Holocaust Memorial Day. The feed back was positive and helped form the pattern that Holocaust Memorial Day would take. Unfortunately, representatives of Masonic organisations were not consulted but it is quite likely that this was due to the fact that very few people in the United Kingdom were aware the Freemasons had also suffered during the Holocaust.
It was announced by the Prime Minister, the Right Honourable, Mr Tony Blair, in January 2000, that the 27th January would henceforth be known as Holocaust Memorial Day and on 27 January 2001 the UK held its first Holocaust Memorial Day. Since then, a different part of the UK has hosted the Holocaust Memorial Day National Event each year – in 2004, Northern Ireland and in particular Belfast will follow in the footsteps of London, Manchester and Edinburgh. In addition, hundreds of events and activities have been held each year across the country to mark the Day and we are hoping to build upon this in 2004.
Holocaust Memorial Day is just about the Jews isn't?
Not at all. The Holocaust ought to be remembered by everyone. Whilst the Jewish people form the largest single identifiable group who suffered other groups were also persecuted by the Nazis e.g. Freemasons, Roma and Sinti (Gypsies), East European civilians, prisoners of war (including a huge number of Poles and Russians), trade unionists, Communists, political opponents, disabled people, Jehovah’s Witnesses, gay men and lesbians and Black Germans.
The lessons of tragic history ought to be remembered and learned from and the lessons of the Holocaust are of global significance and have implications for all of humankind. Holocaust Memorial Day is intended to allow people in the UK to focus, reflect, discuss and remember how those terrible events have relevance today for all without minimising the Jewish aspect of Holocaust remembrance. The goal of Holocaust Memorial Day is keep in view the constant need for vigilance and to ensure that society as a whole (whether as individuals or as groups within it) never forget the degrading treatment meted out to a millions of our fellow human beings. The lessons of the Holocaust are applicable to everyone whether in Europe or elsewhere in the world.
(Please note: Holocaust Memorial Day is distinct from Yom HaShoah, the Jewish day of remembrance for the Jewish victims of the Nazis).
What has Holocaust Memorial Day to do with Freemasons?
The answer is that many Freemasons suffered the same horrible fate as other groups yet they alone are almost entirely forgotten. Other web sites, even ones containing official researched and sponsorship, contain no reference to Freemasonry as a group selected for 'special treatment' by the Nazis. This part of the Grand Lodge of Scotland web site is intended to ensure that, like all the other groups targeted by the Nazis, Freemasons and their sufferings are not forgotten.
Six million Jews died - how can the odd one or two Masons compare with that?
No one denies that the majority of those who suffered during the Holocaust were the Jews (because of their religion) and the Poles (because of their nationality) but the United Kingdom Government in establishing Holocaust Memorial Day did so to recognise all groups who were targets of the Nazi regime.
Whilst there is annecdotal evidence that Freemasons were tortured and executed simply because they were Freemasons they were a small percentage of the total German population. Conservative estimates calculate that at least 80,000 Freemasons died. It is impossible to arrive at a total figure as no one knows the number of Freemasons from occupied countries who were murdered. The figure of 80,000 is therefore a 'guestimate' for the total figure across occupied Europe.
Does Holocaust Memorial Day mark, for example, the Rwandan genocide?
No. Holocaust Memorial Day is essentially about World War Two and is not intended to specifically inform or reflect upon the genocide in Rwanda partly because it would compete with Rwanda Genocide Memorial Day, which will commemorate the actual tenth anniversary on 7th April 2004.
Who is responsible for delivering Holocaust Memorial Day?
(Please note that from February 2005 the UK government divested itself of responsibility for Holocaust Memorial Day and the duties previously undertaken by the Home Office have been transferred to the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust. In the interests of providing a comprehensive account of the events leading to the establishment of Holocaust Memorial Day the details relating arrangements prior to February 2005 have been left in place.)
Were can I learn more?
There are a considerable number of web sites which contain further information. The links page has details of these.