Holocaust Memorial Day 2019

By Paula Kitching, published 11th January 2019

'Torn From Home'

The scale and horror that is the reality of genocide often serves to shock and repulse us, with the result that we often turn away from some of the details and perhaps from the broader picture. Yet it is often the details and nuances that enable us to understand how some people become the perpetrators and bystanders, and it is also the details that reveal some of the long-term impacts that genocide and other crimes against humanity can have on those victims who survive and on the societies that witnessed it. The broader impact and the details can be the threads of understanding that connect those far removed from those terrible events to the victims, thus allowing people today, young and old, to connect emotionally to those who might otherwise seem remote.

This year the theme for Holocaust Memorial Day is ‘Torn from Home’, an idea that highlights the violent process and methodology of those who perpetrated the Holocaust and of those who have carried out subsequent events. Genocide involves a number of stages and has a long-term impact that leaves a legacy of emotional as well as physical damage. The murder of innocent people is usually the end of the story of what happened, while it is the build-up that presents us with the warning signs of what can happen if prejudice, isolation and persecution go unchecked and unchallenged.

Many of us invest a lot of time in our homes, making them our sanctuary or private place, our place for friends and family to relax, a place where special memories are created and kept. Being torn from home – forced to leave all that one loves – can cause psychological damage for years. Compound that force with the knowledge that those who are forcing you out were once your neighbours, or the government and state that you were a part of, and the damage begins to take on tragic proportions. For children home is often the place of security, of family and belonging. To lose that – often through violence – can damage a person and their development for life.

I once knew a Holocaust survivor whose mother had got herself and her daughter through the horror of six years of Nazi Occupation in Poland. Once settled in Britain the mother would always sleep with her handbag next to her bed containing a passport, money and snack in case they needed to run.

The fear of being taken from home, of having it ‘torn’ from you, is a universal experience of war and human tragedy – but it is even worse if you know it will result in losing loved ones and a national identity. Many German Jews believed themselves to be fully German before the Nazis introduced their Nuremberg Laws in 1935 and were at a loss to understand why their country was turning on them. It is why this year’s theme is so important: it helps us remember that the real history of the Holocaust and all genocides is the brutal treatments that people commit on each other and the power that some seek to wield over others. It is a reminder that the stages to genocide can create their own havoc and horror, and that those who get trampled on the way and survive are still victims and are also suffering. The fear of being ‘Torn from Home’ is a theme we can probably all relate to in some way.

Holocaust Memorial Day is a time to reflect on the consequences of genocide, of how those events can impact on all our societies, how those forced to flee become refugees and migrants and how those who stand by and do nothing are left with broken societies. ‘Torn from Home’ is a reminder that the details of big events have stages that we can all connect to and that is why we must seek to understand the past and to relate to the people who may seem different to us, if we are to make the world we live in today a better place.