This week is Trustees’ Week, an opportunity to highlight the great work that Trustees do in volunteering their time to achieve the greatest possible impact. To highlight the exceptional work done by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust (HMDT) trustees, our very own Joe Mulhall reflects on his commitment to raising awareness of the contemporary relevance of Holocaust and genocide commemoration.
The theme for Holocaust Memorial Day 2015, marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, is Keep the memory alive. As the horrors of the persecution, ghettos, Einsatzgruppen and finally the gas chambers, descend further into history, the work of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust becomes more relevant rather than less.
Sadly, we are approaching a time when witnesses and survivors will no longer be around to provide first-hand testimony to the unique horror of Nazi crimes or to the heroism of those who fought back. It is vital that we do not let their memories die with them. As the Declaration of the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust, our founding document, states, ‘the Holocaust will always hold universal meaning’ and it is HMDT’s work fostering the flame of remembrance for future generations that motivates me, and I am sure my fellow trustees, to contribute to its cause.
However, while commemoration for its own sake is vitally important, it is worth remembering that memory can also be a powerful tool. This very week the notorious and discredited Holocaust denier David Irving is touring the UK and he is by no means alone. As a doctoral researcher at Royal Holloway, University of London, who looks at Holocaust deniers, I know there is a huge international industry made up of pseudo-academics, far-right parties and publishing houses that direct their efforts solely towards casting doubt upon the true historical record of the Holocaust. The best weapon in our arsenal against denial is the truth. It is HMDT’s commitment to both remembrance and education that makes it so integral to this fight.
While the Holocaust and Nazi Persecution rightly sit at the heart of everything HMDT does, both I, and I know many of my fellow trustees, feel the inclusion of subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur in Holocaust Memorial Day is what makes the day so profoundly relevant today. These are sad testimony, wrought in blood and bone, that ‘never again’ must not just be a slogan or empty rhetoric, but a call to action. Looking at the horrors of Auschwitz, it is easy to describe the Nazi’s actions as inhumane. Yet these subsequent genocides prove they were all too human; reminding us that our species has the capability and tendency towards great acts of violence and destruction. This is why HMDT’s Statement of Commitment is so vital. Point five reads:
'We recognise that humanity is still scarred by the belief that race, religion, disability or sexuality make some people’s lives worth less than others’. Genocide, antisemitism, racism, xenophobia and discrimination still continue. We have a shared responsibility to fight these evils.'
In addition to the usual governance role, the Board of Trustees seeks to aid the work of the remarkably talented and committed staff team by contributing their knowledge and expertise. As a former campaign organiser and researcher at the anti-racism and anti-fascism campaign Hope Not Hate, it is the work of HMDT that aims to ‘fight these evils’ that first motivated me to get involved, and where I feel I can most contribute.
This week I have represented HMDT on a trip organised by the Council of Christians and Jews to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, Israel's official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. The trip, otherwise made up of parliamentarians, allowed me the opportunity to exercise another key duty of the trustees by promoting the great work of the organisation, expanding awareness of our work and purpose, and encouraging others to get more involved in what we do.
For all these reasons and more, being a trustee of HMDT is a pleasure as well as a privilege.
Find out more about HMDT Trustees.