Why Holocaust Memorial Day IS for Everyone

Earlier on today, I was somewhat concerned to hear that points had been raised against commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day at the annual National Union of Students (NUS) Conference, which is currently taking place in Brighton. According to Twitter and an article on the Huffington Post website, the argument was put forward that Holocaust Memorial Day is not inclusive enough, and that to commemorate victims of the Holocaust "suggests some lives are more important than others".

At first glance, it may look as though Holocaust Memorial Day is not necessarily inclusive. Every year on 27 January - the day Auschwitz was liberated by the Soviet Army - we remember the Jewish people who were murdered by the Nazis, approximately six million of them. The narrative is very much focused on the Jewish victims, but other groups who were persecuted and murdered are remembered as well. These include the Roma and Sinti peoples; homosexuals; the mentally and physically disabled; Jehovah's Witnesses; Soviet POWs; and others. Whilst it is true that these groups could be given even further attention in the commemorations, the focus remains on the Jewish people because of the scale on which they were killed, and also because they were the only group of people the Nazis truly wanted to completely exterminate.

Secondly, the point was raised that other genocides are not widely taught in this country. We are often left ignorant of the atrocities that have taken place since the Holocaust in places such as Cambodia, Rwanda, Indonesia and Bosnia. Are we "forgetting" these other genocides, as was suggested at the conference? Not necessarily. Again, there is a valid point in the lack of education around these subjects in schools, and this is definitely something that should be addressed. We should bear in mind, however, the restrictions on time and content that many school teachers face. Although the Holocaust is part of our National Curriculum, many teachers feel they can only afford to set aside one or two lessons for it, which is certainly not enough to deal with such a vast and complex history. Others feel intimidated or worried about teaching the Holocaust in an educational but sensitive manner; this is why organisations such as the Holocaust Educational Trust and UCL's Centre for Holocaust Education have created specialised training courses and educational packs for teachers approaching the subject. This is not to excuse the lack of education around other genocides, but if teachers barely find time to talk about the largest genocide in recent history that happened on the same continent as Britain, when will they find the time to talk about other genocides that, for many children, will just seem like they happened somewhere far away?

Whilst knowledge of other genocides may not be widespread in this country, the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, this country's leading charity in terms of Holocaust Memorial Day, does include material and commemorations directed towards other genocides. You need only look at their website or the national commemorative event, screened on the BBC for the last two years running, to see the involvement of other genocides and atrocities. Survivors from countries like Cambodia, Rwanda, Darfur and Bosnia are always invited. Some of them give speeches or record messages, and others light one of the six candles that form an integral part of the day's commemorations.

In recent years, there seems also to have been a shift to include the stories of those who were not victims of the Holocaust, but were rescuers or witnesses to what took place. This year's theme, 'Don't Stand By', focused on those who rescued Jewish people, such as Sir Nicholas Winton, Oskar Schindler and Frank Foley. Furthermore, the theme for each year is always something that we can all reflect on in our own, contemporary lives. We are encouraged to think about how we might tackle prejudice, hatred and intolerance should we come up against them. Therefore, the lessons of the past are very much ingrained into ideas for both the present and the future, to stop any kind of mass persecution or genocide happening again.

Thankfully, the motion to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day was passed with a strong majority, but I feel it is important for everyone to realise that Holocaust Memorial Day is not designed to prioritise the suffering of one group over another. It is, in fact, an extremely inclusive event, and something that everyone is encouraged to be involved in, no matter how small their contribution.