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UK churches mark Holocaust Memorial Day

Norwich, UK

Cathedrals and churches round the UK are marking Holocaust Memorial Day, held on 27th January, with talks and events focusing on the role of ordinary people in genocide, and how ordinary people can play a bigger role in challenging prejudice.

Holocaust Memorial Day is an international Day of Remembrance, marking the date when the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi concentration camp was liberated.  Apart from remembering the millions of Jews, Gypsies, Roma and other minority groups murdered during the Holocaust, the day also highlights genocides such as those that have taken place in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Sudan.

UK York Holocaust Memorial Day

York Minster’s candlelit Star of David on a previous Holocaust Memorial Day. PICTURE: Courtesy of York Minster

For the past decade, Holocaust Memorial Day has been marked with the lighting of six hundred candles in the shape of the Star of David within York Minister.  It marks a symbolic representation of six million, the number killed in the Nazi genocide. This special service is always packed full with people from different faith traditions gathering to remember, reflect and pray.

Rev Canon Maggie McLean, Canon Missioner at York Minister comments: “It encourages people to reflect on the importance of ordinary men and women who find courage and humanity not to dehumanise other people and who offer small acts of kindness which might just be all it takes to give hope and a tiny glimmer of light in the darkest of minutes.”

The impact of genocide can be long-lasting, affecting generations to come. TV personality and barrister, Robert Rinder, together with psychologist Bernie Graham, are giving a talk at Exeter Cathedral during its commemoration service. Both Rinder and Graham have been personally affected by the Holocaust since members of their families were sent to the concentration camps.  Speaking after their involvement in a BBC TV programme, My Family, The Holocaust and Me, Rinder said “its shadow, its dark impact, has affected everything, it has shaped my entire family.” 

The Very Rev Jonathan Greener, Dean of Exeter Cathedral, believes that promoting awareness of the Holocaust and other genocides forms a key part of the cathedral’s work within the community.  He points out that “Exeter Cathedral is here for all communities, and so it is fundamental to our mission that we do all we can to support opportunities such as Holocaust Memorial Day, which challenge prejudice and the language of hatred in society”.

Educating future generations is important, which is why every ecclesiastical Holocaust Memorial Day event nationwide involves school children. At Lichfield Cathedral, a special service is being held to create space for conversations around the Holocaust challenging them to bear witness and take responsibility for change.  

Within the Gloucester diocese, the church of St Mary’s, Kingswood, has been the venue for Holocaust Memorial Day events for many years. Local parishioner Bob Copeland was prompted to become involved after his children took part in a school visit to the site of a concentration camp.  

“Every year we organise a talk to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day,” he said. “In the past we’ve had survivors of genocide come and share their stories. In conversations afterwards they often shared their deep, deep frustration with a world where genocide continues to be perpetuated.”

“I’m attempting to respond to that frustration, looking at why genocide is still being perpetrated in the 21st century, and looking at what we as ordinary people can do to make genocide a thing of the past.”

As Graham pointed out, “through remembrance and education we can enable future generations to at least be aware of the horrifying consequences of hate and ignorance and hopefully they will do all they can to avoid repetition”.

“We just have to hope. I have learned, that ‘the monster’ was not Germany; it was and still is hate.”



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