HMDT Blog: Volunteering Week 2018 – Charlie Roden

In this blog for HMDT, Charlie Roden shares her experiences of volunteering at the UK Ceremony for Holocaust Memorial Day 2018.

HMDT Blog: Volunteering Week 2018 – Charlie Roden

What is done cannot be undone, but one can prevent it happening again.

- Anne Frank

This year, more than 100 people, including myself, volunteered to help at the Holocaust Memorial Day Ceremony. Our roles included supporting survivors, helping people to their seats, checking tickets and, above all, ensuring that guests felt comfortable and welcome. It gave me an opportunity to meet some wonderful people who were happy to share their thoughts about the event with me.

The power of words was the focus of this year’s UK Commemorative Ceremony for Holocaust Memorial Day, in which it considered how language has been utilised historically, as well as how it is used in the present.

Karen Engelberg and I decided to volunteer together as the Holocaust is a period of history that we both studied in depth at university, and so it meant a lot to us to join in on this special day. Karen felt that the experience was extremely rewarding and believes that any education on the Holocaust or genocide ‘can only serve to enlighten others in the future.’ In Karen’s opinion, the ‘power of words’ suggests that we all have a duty to continue to speak about the atrocities committed in the past and those currently being committed across the globe. She believes that it is vital to commemorate genocides that have happened and continue to this day - ‘we need to raise the profile of these atrocities, and if we don’t commemorate them, we will lose sight, and awareness will dissipate.’

Sue Krisman volunteered to help at the Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony because of the ongoing atmosphere of racial hatred across the world. She wants to help anyone that tries to bring communities together and keeps alive the messages from the Holocaust for future generations.

Finally, Daniel Lazar chose to volunteer having previously attended the ceremony as a guest. He found the ceremony very moving and was impressed with the level of organisation it must have taken, and so offered to help this year. When asked about the importance of commemorating the Holocaust, Daniel replied that since there are other genocides continuing to this day, it is essential that we commemorate the Holocaust to remind us all that hatred is still present across the world.

For over 70 years, many survivors have shared their stories to ensure that we do not forget how the Nazis used words to incite hatred. This year, we were honoured to listen to survivors including Helen Aronson, who reminded us of the importance of tolerance towards others, as well as standing up to bigotry and hate. Born in Pabajanice, Poland in 1927, in May 1942 Helen was forced to relocate to the Lodz ghetto, along with 250,000 Jews. ‘All around us was crying, shouting and sounds of shooting…’ Whilst Helen, her mother and her brother managed to survive the ghetto, her father was deported and gassed in the Chelmno concentration camp.

The importance of sharing survivors’ stories was reiterated by the Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP, former Secretary of State for the Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government:

‘We also have a duty to tell the stories of the victims and the survivors and to remember. This is the best tribute we can give them. And our best hope of ensuring that when we say never again, we mean it.’

Despite promises that such barbaric events would never happen again, ‘a crime without a name’, as Churchill once called it, genocides have followed in Cambodia, Rwanda, and Bosnia.

Even today, with the ongoing atrocities being carried out in Darfur and Myanmar, ethnic tensions have only been heightened by hate speech. Whilst hate speech has always existed, social media has enabled such language to thrive and spread across the globe on an unprecedented scale, giving it a platform that newspapers, pamphlets, and orations never could. Therefore, perhaps more than ever before, we must recognise the impact that words can have.

Given that the number of Holocaust survivors are steadily decreasing, it was a great honour to have the opportunity to meet some of these inspiring people face to face. I feel privileged to have had the chance to volunteer for HMDT, and look forward to volunteering for them in the future. 

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The HMDT blog highlights topics relevant to our work in Holocaust and genocide education and commemoration. We hear from a variety of guest contributors who provide a range of personal perspectives on issues relevant to them, including those who have experienced state-sponsored persecution and genocide. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of HMDT.