Monday, 18 June, 2012
18 – 24 June 2012 is Refugee Week, a time for us to celebrate the contribution of refugees to the UK. This year the theme for refugee week is Different pasts, shared future.
Our communities are made up of individuals with a multitude of different backgrounds which help to make the UK a diverse and exciting place to live. Amongst many others, people who fled from persecution during the Holocaust and subsequent genocides have rebuilt their lives and created new communities in Britain.
During Refugee Week we can explore why people might seek sanctuary in countries such as the UK. When genocide takes place people are expelled from the societies they used to be part of and subjected to extreme violence and injustice. During the Holocaust many Jews and victims of Nazi persecution sought refuge in the UK, and most of those who did found their requests denied. Those who were accepted into the UK arrived into an alien culture, not speaking the language, bereft of possessions; many had already lost family members and friends or had suffered in the camps.
Dr Martin Stern is a Holocaust survivor who sought asylum in the UK. Martin was born in 1938 and lived in Holland. His parents had moved to Holland from Germany in order to get married; his father was Jewish and laws in Germany at the time forbade marriage. Martin went on to survive the camps of both Westerbork and Theresienstadt, and after the war he came to live with his aunt and her family in Didsbury, Manchester. At the age of 16 he became a British citizen.
He says:
'I was so grateful to have been given a British nationality, to be a British citizen. Because I never had Dutch nationality, they called me stateless, so it’s the British; it’s Britain that’s given me a real home.'
Martin went on to study medicine at Oxford University and become a doctor.
Martin’s story is just one of the many voices of Holocaust survivors in the UK which have helped us to understand the past. In doing so they also help us to create a safer, better future.
The theme for HMD 2013 is Communities Together: Build a Bridge. On Holocaust Memorial Day 2013 we’re asking you to respect different communities; to find out more about your own community and the many individuals who make it up.
Today, we all have a responsibility to teach and learn about the diverse communities within the UK, in doing so we can respect each other’s differences and prevent hatred and discrimination. On 27 January 2013 we can come together, and stay together.
You can celebrate Refugee Week by joining the Simple Acts campaign. Simple acts are small and easy activities that anyone can do, to help make a big change to the way in which we perceive refugees in the UK.
For your Simple Act you could: