One day without genocide

Unite observes Holocaust Memorial Day – and encourages members to join us in lighting the darkness

Reading time: 8 min

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day (January 27) when people across the world gather to remember the more than 6m Jewish people who were massacred in the Holocaust, as well as the millions more who were likewise murdered in other genocides, including in Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur, Cambodia and others.

This year’s HMD theme is ‘one day’, which the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust says highlights “the hope that there may be ‘one day’ in the future with no genocide”.

“We learn more about the past, we empathise with others today, and we take action for a better future,” the HMD Trust notes on its website.

This year, Unite is encouraging all its members to take part in the UK’s Holocaust Memorial Day Ceremony which will be streamed online today (January 27) from 7pm.

Unite national officer for equalities Harish Patel welcomed this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day theme ‘One Day’. “

‘One Day’ reminds us of how the millions of lives of innocent people either killed or affected by genocide were irrevocably changed in instant,” he said. “It shows us how for those who have suffered, ‘one day’ can feel like eternity, and for others ‘one day’ can be the light at the end of the tunnel. Still many more never experienced the ‘one day’ when their suffering ended, as their lives were cut short by hatred and violence. Even for those who survived, many will remain forever haunted by genocide, having to take ‘one day’ at a time.

“But the truth that we must above all acknowledge is the fact that we do not yet live an age without genocide,” Patel went on to say. “It is imperative for us all to remember historic genocides, and to understand the causes that led up to such atrocities so that we don’t repeat the past. No genocide happened in ‘one day’ – it was the culmination of years of powerful regimes sowing seeds of hatred in ordinary people against those they considered as ‘other’. This happens still today.

“Nationally, Unite Equalities is working closely with Holocaust Memorial Day Trust to set one day and come together to remember and to learn about the Holocaust, and the genocides that followed in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur, in the hope that there may be ‘one day’ in the future with no genocide.”

You can register to watch the Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony streamed online this evening from 7pm to 8pm here.

8pm: Light the darkness

As the ceremony ends, get ready to ‘Light the darkness’ with us. Light a candle at 8pm and safely put it in your window to:

  • remember those who were murdered for who they were
  • stand against prejudice and hatred today
  • at 8.05pm: share with the nation – upload a photo of your candle on social media, using the hashtags #HolocaustMemorialDay and #LightTheDarkness.

One way to mark this year’s theme, the HMD Trust says, is to look at one day in history during the Holocaust or other genocides and learn about that day, as we’ve done below.

January 27, 1945 – liberation of Auschwitz

January 27, which is marked the world over as International Holocaust Memorial Day, is a special day in history in and of itself — it was on this day, in 1945, that the Auschwitz concentration camp, where more than one million Jews were murdered, was liberated by the Red Army.

Although most of the remaining people who were imprisoned at Auschwitz were sent on a death march ahead of the Soviet soldiers’ arrival, about 7,000 prisoners were left behind. The soldiers were shocked to find just how brutally the Jewish people imprisoned in Auschwitz were treated.

Red Army general Vasily Petrenko later commented, “I who saw people dying every day was shocked by the Nazis’ indescribable hatred toward the inmates who had turned into living skeletons. I read about the Nazis’ treatment of Jews in various leaflets, but there was nothing about the Nazis’ treatment of women, children, and old men. It was in Auschwitz that I found out about the fate of the Jews.”

In 2020, a Unite delegation of young members traveled to Auschwitz to learn about its history – you can read our feature about this trip and the experiences of our young members here.

April 17, 1975 – Cambodian genocide begins

On April 17, 1975, Khmer Rouge troops captured the city of Phnom Penh. Many of the city’s residents initially welcomed the Communist soldiers, believing that their presence meant the end of the five preceding years of bloodshed amid a civil war.

But soon their true intentions were revealed – within hours of the city’s capture, the soldiers began implementing the Khmer Rouge’s plan to turn Cambodia into an agrarian society. Soldiers began the evacuation of the city’s 2.5m residents into the countryside, with people in homes, schools and even hospitals forced out into the street at gunpoint. It is estimated that thousands of people died in the very first day amid the chaos of the city’s capture.

Former civil servants, teachers and other professionals were stripped of all their possessions and forced to work in fields. Any who fell behind in their work, hid their rations or committed any other perceived infractions were tortured and murdered. Ethnic minorities were in particular targeted, including ethnic Vietnamese, ethnic Thai, ethnic Chinese, ethnic Cham, Cambodian Christians, as well as professionals, intellectuals and people with ties to Buddhist monkhood.

It is estimated that between 1.5m and 2m people were massacred over the course of the Cambodian genocide between 1975 and 1979. Direct execution is understood to have accounted for 60 per cent of the death toll, with the remaining 40 per cent succumbing to starvation, exhaustion or disease.

April 7, 1994 – Rwandan genocide begins

On April 7, 1994, the systematic massacre of the Tutsi people began. The Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR) and Hutu militia set up roadblocks and went from house to house killing Tutsis and moderate Hutu politicians. It is estimated that thousands were murdered on this first day alone. Over the course of the genocide, between 500,000 and 1m Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered.

April 7 also marked the day that 10 Belgian peacekeepers were tortured and murdered, which sparked the withdrawal of UN forces. The Tutsis received no international support, and it is acknowledged today that such support, with as little as 5,000 troops, could have prevented many of the killings.

In addition to International Holocaust Memorial Day marking the Rwandan genocide among others, on April 7, Rwanda begins its national period of mourning with Kwibuka (Remembrance), the national commemoration day. The period of mourning ends 100 days later on July 4, Liberation Day.

July 12, 1995 Srebrenica massacre

July 12, 1995 marked the beginning of the most deadly few days in the Bosnian genocide. It was the day that Bosnian Serb forces entered the town of Srebrenica and began separating Bosniak boys and men from women, children and the elderly.

The latter were deported in tens of thousands to Kladanj, while men and boys over 12 were forced to stay in Srebrenica. They were reassured since Srebrenica was a UN-designated safe space, but from the evening of July 12 and the ensuing 72 hours, the boys and men were systematically executed. It is estimated that more than 8,000 people died in the Srebrenica massacre.

In 2019, UniteLive spoke with Bosnian genocide survivor and campaigner Bakira Hasečić, who has spent decades testifying against war criminals and fighting for support, compensation and justice for rape victims of the Bosnian War. You can read our interview with Bakira here.

Unite has long worked with the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust in publicising and taking action on Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) and this year is no different. Today Unite encourages all its members and family and friends to take part.

By Hajera Blagg

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