What is Holocaust Memorial Day? The university will mark Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) on 27 January this year, where we will remember the millions of people who have been murdered or whose lives have been changed beyond recognition during the Holocaust.
Between 1941 and 1945, the Nazis attempted to annihilate all of Europe’s Jews. This systematic and planned attempt to murder European Jewry is known as the Holocaust (The Shoah in Hebrew). From the time they assumed power in 1933, the Nazis used propaganda, persecution, and legislation to deny human and civil rights to Jews. By the end of the Holocaust, six million Jewish men, women and children had perished in ghettos, mass-shootings, in concentration camps and extermination camps. There were an additional five million victims of Nazi mass murders including LGBT people, disabled and mentally ill people, Slavs, Romani people, and people of colour, bringing the death toll to approximately eleven million. On HMD we also remember the victims of subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. On HMD we can honour the survivors of these regimes and challenge ourselves to use the lessons of their experience to inform our lives today. 27 January marks the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp.
Thinking about this time, it raises many, many questions about our past, as citizens of the world, and about the current state of the world. This is a chance for us to pause and think about what such events mean for us, today.
Why is Holocaust Memorial Day important? HMD is a time when we seek to learn the lessons of the past and to recognise that genocide does not just take place on its own, it’s a steady process which can begin if discrimination, racism and hatred are not checked and prevented. We’re fortunate here in the UK; we are not at risk of genocide. However, discrimination has not ended, nor has the use of the language of hatred or exclusion. There is still much to do to create a safer future and HMD is an opportunity to start this process. Find out more on the HMD Trust website: http://hmd.org.uk/.
We can consider this in the light of continuing hate crimes which occur in this country, against LGBT+ people and against people labelled as different, or undesirable, by current social systems. If the media vilifies and villainises certain groups of types of people in our society, we may all then become complicit in subtle forms of oppression and exclusion. Today, as on every other day, people in our society, and people across the globe, suffer from simply living their lives according to their own identities, their beliefs, and their culture. Discrimination, violence and oppression are never acceptable, but the only way to ensure that we learn from the lessons of the past is to stand up and say ‘not in my name.’ It may seem difficult to stand up to what seem like much larger forces, often not
I can write as someone with personal experience of persecution and discrimination, but only on a very small scale. I want to share this experience because it shows how something as huge as a Holocaust begins with the people who let things happen on a much smaller scale.
Prior to the changes in the law in 2005, I lived in a small village, the same village I grew up in. Myself, my partner and my son were the victims of persistent discrimination, prejudice and in the end, persecution. We had bought a lovely house with a large garden and our son was attending the primary school I myself had attended. I was keen to give him a sense of belonging, of roots, to support him developing his identity and to help him explore his place in the world from a place of safety. But that was not to be.
Almost from the moment we bought the house, we were targeted by local youths who vandalised our property and subjected us all to verbal abuse. This included throwing eggs and flour at our house, throwing mud bombs at the house, and knocking on the door and then throwing eggs and flour into the face of the person answering it. They would congregate outside the house and shout obscenities. At one point, they began exposing themselves on our front lawn. We had to keep our curtains shut so as to protect my young son. They scrawled abusive graffiti on the handrails leading to our front door. We became afraid to answer the door or leave the house. We had to tape the letter box shut because of the fear that they would set fire to the house, as this was a very real threat. If we went to the local shop, we were often followed by a number of youths who yelled abuse at us. Our neighbour, an elderly gentleman caring for his sick wife, was the only supportive person, and there was very little he could do. We installed security cameras, but it made no difference. The police treated every occurrence we reported as an individual incident, and did nothing to help us other than refer us to victim support, or to prevent what was happening. They did not take it seriously.
We could not get childcare for our son, because none of the local childminders would accept him. This meant us having to adjust our working lives around each other, and we very rarely went out socially. This put a huge strain on our relationship.
Meanwhile, at the school, my son was bullied for having lesbian parents. The teachers said that bullying did not take place in such young children. We knew differently. The other parents would not speak to us in the school yard, and when forced to, were disdainful. When we went to a local playgroup, they refused to eat our food. None of the parents would let their children play with my son outside of school. He was acutely aware of this. His ‘best friend’ lived 3 minutes away from him, but the parents would not let their child see my son outside of school. My son would ask, why can’t I go to X’s house after school? All the other boys are going! It broke my heart.
His fifth birthday party, I invited his whole class.
One child turned up.
This is persecution. It is not on the scale of the Holocaust, but it is an example of the kinds of behaviours which are socially sanctioned by everyone in a community. Nobody took action against this behaviour, this systematic abuse which escalated. They watched us being abused, discriminated against and marginalised, and even if they did not do it themselves, they let it happen. The people of that village knew who was doing it, and did nothing to stop it. The police did not protect us. We were considered undesirable and punished for it. The last straw was when we woke up one day to find all the tyres on our car had been slashed. No prosecution ever came from that. Our only redress was to move.
We were working parents, contributing to society, both in jobs that enriched the lives of others. It made no sense to me that we should suffer for four years like that. But this is how things begin. Genocide, persecution, the destruction of property, the destruction of life, all these stem from individuals. How many of us experience this kind of persecution, tolerated by our neighbours?
It is individuals, communities and societies, not just governments, terrorist groups or armies that bring about genocide. We can all stand up and vow to not let that happen. Not in our homes, our streets, our villages, and our society. We can remember the victims of Genocides past and present, and take a stand against violence and the destruction of communities and societies. And we can look around us and think of ways to make the world a better place.
I am lucky to live in a society where I am no longer at risk. But I include my personal experience so that others can realise that Genocide starts at home, and it happens to people. Real people who live real lives, just like us.
Swansea University on Holocaust Memorial Day This year we will be commemorating HMD by pledging to remember the victims of the Holocaust and later genocides. We will be holding an information stall on Wednesday 27th January, 12-2pm, ground floor Fulton House, and would encourage all staff to come and support us. We will also be collecting donations for the Holocaust Memorial Day trust.
Dr Alys Einion
LGBT+ Staff Network co-chair
Alys Einion January 21st, 2016
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