Holocaust Memorial Day

“All I could tell you [was] that it was quite dark, I saw just kind of darkness, and we didn’t know who’s alive and who’s not alive. I was in a very bad state, I was already among the dead, and then I looked up. It was a man. I saw tears in the eyes, and M&Ms in [his] hand.”

– Edith Eger, Psychologist and Holocaust survivor

77 years ago today, on 27 January 1945, the concentration camps at Auschwitz were liberated.

The Auschwitz II camp, at Birkenau, was where the Nazi SS created their monstrous killing machine. It was mechanised murder on a scale never seen before.

The theme of this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day is ‘One Day’ – to remember the victims of the Holocaust and other atrocities since. I’ve been looking back at what happened on this One Day – 27 January – throughout the 20th Century and beyond.

It’s been a chilling reminder that genocide is still with us and can take many destructive forms.

On 27 January 1924, Vladimir Lenin was laid to rest in a mausoleum in Moscow. It marked the formal beginning of the Stalin era in the Soviet Union, where millions would perish through famine, forced labour and political terror.

In Cambodia on 27 January 1976, just under 10 months had passed since the Khmer Rouge entered the capital Phnom Penh and forced its population into the countryside. Pol Pot and other Khmer Rouge leaders commanded a deadly regime and held to an extreme racist ideology that specifically targeted Cambodia’s Cham Muslims, ethnic Vietnamese, and ethnic Chinese populations.

In Syria in 1982, President Hafez al-Assad’s Ba’athist Government prepared to launch the Hama massacre, hoping to wipe out the country’s Islamist opposition. Large parts of the city would be reduced to rubble throughout February by forces under the control of the President’s brother, who boasted of killing 38,000 people. The true death toll is still unknown.

On 27 January 1983, Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwean Government had just unleashed its North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade in Matabeleland North Province. In the coming years, thousands of Ndebele people would be detained by government forces and executed or forced into camps.

In Rwanda, 27 January 1994, Hutu extremists were stockpiling weapons, and had already began distributing machetes and kerosene to prospective killers. The same month, US intelligence predicted that hundreds of thousands of people would die if ethnic tensions were not diffused. We saw this coming, but the international community still failed to prevent genocide.

As of 27 January 2022, in Xianjing, China, the Chinese Communist Party has begun to implement an even more invasive ‘grid’ system for social control of the majority Uyghur population. It continues to use forced labour and has made every effort to cut off the next generation of Uyghurs from their millennia old cultural heritage.

Looking at all these dark times shows why we must always be vigilant, and never make the mistake of assuming it just can’t happen here.

Through my position as Co-Chair of Parliament’s All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism alongside my Conservative colleague Andrew Percy, we work to combat racism and hatred.

In the first half of 2021 we saw disturbing increases in antisemitic hate amid escalating violence in the Middle East. The Community Security Trust, a charity that monitors antisemitism and provides security for the Jewish community in Britain, recorded 1,308 antisemitic incidents nationwide in the first half of 2021 – a 49% increase from the incidents recorded in the first half of 2020. The All-Party group continues to work to prevent antisemitism creeping back into public life, whether that’s in politics, at universities, on streaming platforms or in newspapers.

In my capacity as Chair of Parliament’s Petitions Committee, I’ve also been working on improving the Government’s Online Safety Bill, including a focus on safer systems that will limit exposure to, and the presence of, hate and extremist content online. We hope to publish our report soon and look forward to the Government’s response.

These may be small actions, but I hope they can play some part in reducing the hatred, division and misinformation that have caused, and continue to cause, so much conflict and misery.

As we come together to remember the victims of the Holocaust, Nazi persecution and the mass killings and genocides that followed, we must not just hope but act so that One Day, we will live in a world without genocide.