REMEMBERING the Holocaust has always been a big part of my fibre.

Growing up in Germany before I moved to Scotland, ‘niemals vergessen’ – never forgetting – the horrendous crimes committed during the era of national socialism and throughout the Second World War was part of my education and self-image from a young age; never as a burden, but as a reminder that I and others have a responsibility: to never let history repeat itself.

Still, for the longest time, I thought that through the power of hindsight, such horrendous crimes surely could not be repeated. That all of us would know better to create environments in which hate for groups of people can spiral out of control to such levels; that such hostility could not happen on my own doorstep. I soon learned I was wrong.

More genocides have happened since the Second World War – in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Sudan. Right now, survivors of these horrific events provide a living memory for them, but many – particularly the survivors of the Nazi Holocaust – will not be here much longer.

There is a danger in that. Recent examples have shown why keeping survivors’ memories alive is crucial to stop events being trivialised – or worse – called into question.

Only two weeks ago, Tory MP Andrew Bridgen compared the rollout of the Covid vaccine to the Nazi Holocaust. While he has had the whip removed, his words still showed how quickly events so horrific can become misconstrued and used to further an unrelated agenda.


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Additionally, only a few months before, French Holocaust denier Vincent Reynouard was arrested on Scottish soil. He had been living in Anstruther in Fife for two years, while France’s Central Office for the Fight against Crimes against Humanity and Hate Crimes (OCLCH) pursuing him for a series of Facebook posts denying the Holocaust, as well as further offences under the country’s anti-Nazi laws.

That’s why days such as international Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD), coming up this Friday, are so important. January 27 – the day the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp was liberated in 1945 – has become a day "to honour those that lost their lives," as well as all survivors "whose lives were changed beyond recognition."

But for many survivors it was never just about this aspect alone.

HeraldScotland: The Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp was liberated January 27 in 1945, becoming a day to honour those that lost their livesThe Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp was liberated January 27 in 1945, becoming a day to honour those that lost their lives (Image: Newsquest)

In the lead up to the day last year, I was lucky to speak with a German artist who created the largest decentralised Holocaust memorial in the world; the Gathering the Voices Association, who has conducted more than 50 interviews with refugees from the Holocaust who came to settle in Scotland; as well as members from the Scottish Jewish community about what remembrance means to them and why they think it is important.

Overall, everybody echoed the same message: That remembering must have a purpose. One woman said: “Remembrance is one thing, taking action is another.”

What I took from my encounters is that remembering should not just be an act of commemoration, but an encouragement to challenge present-day discrimination and hostility – something which we have seen plenty of in the UK in the last year alone.

Discrimination and hostility against, often already marginalised, groups have been happening frequently. Yet, one group that has received more than a fair share of both – not just by the public, but also politicians who have scapegoated them for their own agenda – are refugees and asylum seekers.


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In October, only a day after a petrol bombing at an immigration centre in Dover, Suella Braverman talked about “stopping the invasion on our southern coast” in the Commons, responding to reports that around 40,000 people had crossed the English Channel in small boats at that point in the year.

This language, widely condemned by opposition parties at the time, was now also challenged by child-survivor of the Nazi Holocaust Joan Salter, who confronted the Home Secretary in a now viral video viewed over five million times.

Salter said when hearing the Home Secretary’s words, she was “reminded of the language used to dehumanise and justify the murder of my family and millions of others.”

Classification, creating a division of ‘us’ and ‘them,’ is the first of the so-called 10 stages of genocide – followed by symbolisation, discrimination, dehumanisation, organisation, polarisation, preparation, persecution, extermination, and then denial.

HeraldScotland: Death camp inmates held by the Nazis to be worked to death or ready for the gas chambers. Picture source: Holocaust Memorial Trust

As detailed by Joan, it was part of the Nazi propaganda to turn people against each other, resulting in horrendous crimes by the regime to be endorsed as people stood by and turning some ordinary people into perpetrators of violence.

Classification as we see it today may in itself not automatically lead to genocide, but it does perpetuate ‘us versus them’ ideology. Left unchallenged and paired with real societal issues, such as the cost-of-living crisis, such sentiments can foster division, let hate grow, and lead to unfair actions by the government against people be excused or accepted.

Those coming to the UK for refuge from war, bad economic conditions, fear of torture or persecution, and more, have had many of their rights stripped through the Nationality and Borders Act. They have lived in overcrowded accommodation – such as the Manston immigration processing centre in Kent, where around 3,500 people were detained for weeks in a site intended to hold 1,600 – and lived on as little as £8 a week, while waiting months to have their asylum claims assessed – all of which are direct results of government policy. They have also faced direct attacks by extremists, such as the petrol bombing in Dover in November.


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This year’s chosen Holocaust Memorial Day theme is "Ordinary People". It is ordinary people that are persecuted not for anything they have done, but because they belong to a certain group; just as much as it is ordinary people who – when faced with certain propaganda – could end up turning a blind eye towards, or even participating in, violence.

However, it is also ordinary people who, according to the Memorial Trust, "can perhaps play a bigger part than we might imagine in challenging prejudice today."

Like them, I hope that this year’s remembrance is more than a look at the past for our society. I hope it is a reminder that we all have a role to play in challenging narratives and questioning the words of those that are demonising persecuted groups – just as Joan Salter did last week.

What I mostly hope to see is more compassion; not just from society but those making the decisions affecting the ordinary people seeking refuge here.

Daniella Theis is the Scottish Student Journalist of the Year