Holocaust Memorial Day

Every year in January, the world marks Holocaust Memorial Day which has taken place in the UK since 2001.

On this day we share the memory of the millions who have been murdered in the Holocaust and subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur in order to challenge hatred and persecution in the world today.

International Holocaust Memorial Day is typically on the 27 January. This date marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp. This year, due to Friday being Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, we are commemorating on Thursday 26 January. 

Holocaust Memorial Day Vigil

To commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day, we will hold a vigil on Thursday 26 January 2023, from 5:15pm to 7pm in the Winter Gardens. We invite residents, staff, organisations and city partners to join this event online or in-person.

Please arrive in the Winter Gardens, Surrey Street, Sheffield, S1 2HH from 4:45 pm to take your seats.

The AccessAble guide to the Winter Garden provides more information about the venue, it’s location, accessibility and transport links. On-site parking is not available, but please check the site for further information about nearby parking.

To make this event as inclusive as possible, please let us know if you have additional access needs. Requests can be made by contacting us.

Live stream

The event will be streamed online - the updated link will be available shortly.

The Winter Gardens will also host a display during this week and a chance to watch the Holocaust Memorial Day video that will accompany the displays and will be screened all day on the day of the event.

2023 theme: Ordinary People

This year's theme is Ordinary People. Genocide is facilitated by ordinary people. Ordinary people turn a blind eye, believe propaganda and join murderous regimes. Those who are persecuted, oppressed and murdered in genocide are not persecuted because of crimes they have committed, they are persecuted simply because they are ordinary people who belong to a particular group (such as Roma, Jewish community or Tutsi).

Ordinary people were involved in all aspects of the Holocaust, Nazi persecution of other groups and in the genocides that took place in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. Ordinary people were perpetrators, bystanders, rescuers, witnesses, and ordinary people were victims.

This year’s theme highlights the ordinary people who let genocide happen, the ordinary people who actively perpetrated genocide, and the ordinary people who were persecuted. It will prompt us to consider how ordinary people, such as ourselves, can perhaps play a bigger part than we might imagine in challenging prejudice today. 

Perpetrators as ordinary people

Perpetrators were ordinary people, in positions of power, who took advantage of a set of circumstances, or who created a set of circumstances, that allowed them to abuse their power and discriminate, persecute and murder people.

Many studies have also explored how some perpetrators were ordinary people not in positions of power. Watching the trial of Adolf Eichmann, Hannah Arendt coined the phrase ‘the banality of evil’ meaning that evil acts are not necessarily perpetrated by evil people, rather they are the result of ordinary people obeying orders.

Ordinary people were policemen involved in rounding up victims, secretaries typing the records of genocide, dentists and doctors carrying out selections, neighbours wielding machetes in Rwanda and schoolteachers turned concentration camp guards in Bosnia. 

Persecuted people as ordinary people

Victims of genocide were ordinary people. They simply had an aspect of their identity that the perpetrators did not like, and that made them targets for persecution. Sometimes, some members of the victim group did not even identify as a member of the victim group, but the rules were defined by perpetrators. Perpetrators could — and did — determine who would be persecuted based on whatever parameters they wanted, including perceived rather than actual aspects of someone’s identity.

Survivors are often portrayed as extraordinary individuals. However, it is important to remember that they survived the most horrendous acts not necessarily because they were extraordinary, but often due to a mixture of luck, skill, circumstances, or the involvement of other people.

After a genocide, survivors live ordinary lives, dealing with the same day-to-day challenges as the rest of the population. They are ordinary people in our communities: supermarket staff, doctors, parents, teachers.

While for some survivors talking about their experiences is too difficult, other survivors – of all genocides – have become extraordinary in their ability to recount their experiences, becoming speakers, educators, representatives and in some cases historians, to share their testimonies even when it causes them pain to do so. These survivors have recognised that other people would benefit from hearing their personal experience of what happens when ordinary people turn against other ordinary people because of who they are.

Rescuers as ordinary people

Rescuers are also often portrayed as extraordinary, or superhuman, with amazing bravery and skill. This may be true in some instances, but many rescuers describe themselves in very simple terms, highlighting the circumstances that enabled them to save others. Sometimes they were able to provide food to others who needed it, sometimes they hid people. Ordinary people who did extraordinary things, risking their lives, their livelihoods, their families to help others.

Ordinary people as bystanders

Most people living under a murderous regime don’t take an active role in a genocide. They do not become perpetrators or rescuers. They let the genocide take place around them, and they take no action to contribute to it, yet neither do they take action to challenge it, prevent it or to stop it happening.

Ordinary Places, Ordinary Things

Whilst the theme for HMD 2023 focuses on ordinary people, this can be extended to include ordinary locations, or sites. Genocide is an act out of the ordinary that disturbs the natural order of things, hijacking ordinary places and their original purpose. During genocides, people turn these ordinary locations into sites that facilitate genocide. Schools, hospitals, old age homes, religious buildings, forests and fields have been used and misappropriated as holding camps, detention sites, and even as sites of murder throughout all genocides.

Similarly, ordinary objects take on new meanings, as they perhaps become evidence of genocide, or symbolic of an experience; suitcases representing children sent away by their parents to safety as part of the Kindertransport.

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