As Ordinary People, We Must Never Forget

Jewish Labour vice-chair and Labour PPC Sarah Sackman offers a reflection on Holocaust Memorial Day, and this years theme, Ordinary People

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day. It is the day we remember the systematic murder of six million Jews and five million Roma, LGBT+, disabled and other individuals at the hands of the Nazis. Over 1 million of those murdered were children. 

The scale and unimaginable horror of the Holocaust can lead us, mistakenly, to think that this was an exceptional event, completely out of the ordinary. Our challenge is to understand that this was something done by ordinary people to ordinary people.  

The Holocaust was conceived and perpetrated by everymen. It was facilitated and enabled by them - ordinary people who stood silently by or who turned a blind eye. 

The individuals who were killed were ordinary people and so were those who survived. This was something done to people - who were discriminated against, persecuted and killed – simply for being themselves. 

And those who resisted the Nazis, those who rescued their neighbours, friends or colleagues, whether by hiding them or providing food and passage, often risking their own lives - they too were ordinary people. 

Sir Nicholas Winton, a young stockbroker from Hampstead, rescued 669 children, by bringing them from Czechoslovakia safely to the UK. When asked decades later about his seemingly extraordinary acts he answered: 

“Why are you making such a big deal out of it? I just helped a little; I was in the right place at the right time.”

On Holocaust Memorial Day we remember not just the Holocaust itself but the genocides across the world which have followed in its wake. Those too were dreamt up by ordinary people against their neighbours and fellow citizens. In remembering these atrocities we must reflect that whether they were the perpetrator, bystander, rescuer or survivor - these were ordinary people just like us. 

What responsibility are we prepared to take, never to forget and to say, never again?

Today, with the sad passing of many of the remaining Holocaust survivors, like Zigi Shipper MBE who died last week, memory is giving way to history. 

It is up to us to honour their memory and all that they suffered by retelling their stories and by assuming our responsibility – as ordinary people – to stand up to the hate and bigotry which exists in our society.  Whether in our families, in our communities or in our politics we must redouble our efforts to call out the language of “invasions” “scroungers” and “swarms of people” which dehumanises people and removes their dignity. We must support the fight against fascism and racism wherever it rears its ugly head. And today, we must recommit never to forget the acts – both evil and brave – of all those ordinary people that have gone before us. 

Sarah Sackman, is Vice Chair of the Jewish Labour Movement and Labour's PPC for Finchley and Golders Green. She has been a member of the Fabian Women's Network executive committee.

If you want to learn more about Holocaust Memorial Day, a short film can be downloaded here.

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