Holocaust Memorial Day is a day to remember and commemorate those who have been killed in genocides across the globe, both throughout history and in the present day.
The word ‘genocide’ was defined in 1948, as ‘any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) killing members of the group; (b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part, (d) measures intended to prevent births within the group, or ( e ) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. ‘
This year’s Holocaust Memorial Day asks us to view genocide through an alternative lens- when one has seen and lived through genocide, how can life go on?
Those who have survived systematic genocide have inevitably witnessed and experienced untold horrors. Survivors are likely to be living with incomplete support networks and mental and physical health problems, either within the country where the atrocities happened, or within another country, having sought refuge from altogether hideous circumstances.
Testimonies show that both sets of locations pose challenges.
Wherever they live, they harbour severe mental scars.
They will have borne witness to the political, societal, and cultural breakdown of their nation. They are likely to have seen or experienced the death of their loved ones.
They may be survivors of rape, torture, or other forms of physical and sexual violence.
Whilst those who have sought refuge in another country may be physically removed from the situation, mentally, many survivors speak of immigration processes forcing them to relive their trauma. A report conducted by MIND UK found that when relocated to the UK, pressures of the interview process put a ‘tremendous strain’ on individuals, as they experienced being questioned in a confined space by an authority figure very soon after interrogation and torture during the genocide. The anxiety associated with the wait to find out whether they have leave to remain, in some cases, further exacerbated mental health conditions, as did the overhanging threat of being held in a detention centre.
For those who stayed in the country where the atrocities happened, they will bear witness to the political, societal, and cultural recovery of their nation. Testimonies found on the Holocaust Memorial Day website show us that these processes are often long, fraught, and uneasy. Legislation may have to be repealed, executives may have to be removed, and divided communities must be reunited.
For life to go on for survivors in these countries, the UK and the European Union must offer help to those that require it. Labour figures like Alf Dubs, Stella Creasy and Yvette Cooper have rightly campaigned to support unaccompanied child refugees and set up Labour’s Refugee Taskforce, and help to lead the Labour charge against the Tories.
However, we must do more. Whilst help needs to come on a larger scale, including through our international aid budgets and through institutional action, we as people should stop and think how we can support survivors of genocides. This may be through volunteering in refugee communities or camps, offering to foster or take in refugees, donating to a charity supporting refugees and groups that work in countries affected by genocide, or seemingly little things, like calling out xenophobic hate speech and making refugees feel comfortable in their country of settlement.
For survivors of genocide, it is unlikely that life will ever return completely to normal.
We must not allow their experiences to happen in vain. It is vastly important that we acknowledge and commemorate the atrocities that have been committed, and dare to hope that through concerted global efforts, such acts will never happen again.
There are a number of events being held in and around the South East of England to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day, which can be found here:
If you would like to know more about Holocaust Memorial Day, or would like to read any testimonies from survivors of genocide, the link to their website can be found here:
To take action against hate crime in the South East, see the link here: