Holocaust survivor Arek Hersh gives testimony at Queen Mary University
There are many words that repeatedly come up when we’re talking about the Holocaust. Remember. Commemorate. Educate. Persecution. Oppression. Discrimination. Never forget. Never again.
This year’s Holocaust Memorial Day theme is ‘The Power of Words.’ As a languages and literature graduate, perhaps it’s unsurprising that my immediate reaction upon hearing this theme was to think of books, poems and testimonies – the writings produced as a result of the Holocaust, predominantly by the survivors themselves. Although I believe that we will never truly be able to comprehend the horrors inflicted upon so many people, survivors’ words are the only way that we can come close to understanding the atrocities they endured. A history book can provide us with facts, but to hear of somebody’s own, personal experience has a deep resonance.
However, words also have a negative power. Words are used for propaganda, to incite oppression and persecution, and words and images teach young children to hate. We are still living in a world where words create hatred. Although I certainly cannot deny the impact of physical brutality on people’s lives, I believe that words can be equally as powerful and destructive.
We are coming to a turning point in history. Every year, on and around 27th January, we commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day. However, every year there are less survivors with us than the previous year. Without a doubt, to hear a survivor's testimony is one of the most powerful ways to learn about the Holocaust, but what will happen in twenty, fifty or one hundred years’ time? Will we still be commemorating the victims of the Holocaust in the same way? In all likelihood, the answer is no, although we are seeing huge progressions in the way we use technology to preserve survivors’ words, with museums now exhibiting holograms of people telling their stories. Soon, our only way of hearing a testimony will be to listen to recordings or read, and it will take a conscious effort to ensure that our work to educate and commemorate does not waver.
This Holocaust Memorial Day, I ask for one thing – learn a story. Read a survivor’s testimony, whether online or in a book. Watch someone tell their story, in person or pre-recorded (get in touch to find out how and where.) Take that story and share it. Share it with your family, your friends or your flatmates. Join our campaign and share it on social media. Above all, make sure that the memories of the past are not lost. Make sure that we will never, ever forget.
Kathryn Rose, J-Soc Officer