Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD, 27 January) is a national commemoration day in the United Kingdom dedicated to the remembrance of those who suffered in The Holocaust, under Nazi Persecution, and in subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur. It was first held in January 2001 and has been on the same date every year since. The chosen date is the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp by the Soviet Union in 1945, the date also chosen for the International Holocaust Remembrance Day and some other national Holocaust Memorial Days.
In addition to the national event, there are numerous smaller memorial events around the country organised by many different organisations, groups and individuals. Over 5,590 local commemorative activities took place in the UK for Holocaust Memorial Day 2016.
Since 2005, Holocaust Memorial Day has been supported by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, a charity set up and funded by the UK Government.
The theme for Holocaust Memorial Day 2017 was "How can life go on?"
Every year since 2001, there has been an annual national memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. The UK Event has been hosted in:
As preparations began to mark Holocaust Memorial Day 2017, the BBC's Antiques Roadshow, broadcast on 15 January 2017, was a special Holocaust Memorial programme that included many precious objects from Holocaust victims and survivors.
The UK Commemorative Ceremony for HMD was broadcast by the BBC. Participants included Robert Lindsay, Emilia Fox, Freddie Fox, Naomie Harris, David Olusoga, Dame Kristin Scott Thomas and Kevin Whately. Music throughout the ceremony was provided by a diverse range of acts including Darfuri singer Shurooq Abu el Nas, the Choir of Clare College Cambridge, the London Klezmer Quartet and violinist Jennifer Pike. Survivors and their experiences were central to the ceremony and survivors made up a significant part of the audience.
A special reception for survivors and refugees took place a week before the ceremony at the Speaker's House at the Houses of Parliament.
The UK Commemorative Ceremony for HMD was broadcast by the BBC, attracting 1.3 million viewers. Participants included Their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall; the UK Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition; the Chief Rabbi and the Archbishop of Canterbury; and actors Adrian Lester, John Hurt, Michael Palin, Keeley Hawes, Sarah Lancashire, Christopher Eccleston, and Laurence Fox. Survivors and their experiences were central to the ceremony and survivors made up a significant part of the audience.
The ceremony was preceded by a special reception for survivors and refugees. Guests at the reception included Their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall, the three main Westminster party leaders, the Archbishop of Canterbury, celebrity contributors to the ceremony and members of the Prime Minister's Holocaust Commission.
Eight artists took part in the Memory Makers art project by producing pieces of art in response to meeting Holocaust and genocide survivors. Artists and survivors who took part in the project included:
A series of Moving Portraits of Holocaust and genocide survivors screened on big screens in cities across the UK, projected onto London's Royal Festival Hall, and used in dozens of local HMD commemorations.
Sir Anish Kapoor designed 70 special commemorative candles, which were lit at 70 HMD activities around the UK, demonstrating the breadth and diversity of the commemorations in every part of the country. Six candles were lit at the UK Commemorative Ceremony to represent the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust and a candle was taken to Auschwitz Birkenau by Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.
In 2010, Jeremy Corbyn co-chaired an event at the Houses of Parliament where Holocaust analogies were used to criticise the Israeli government's treatment of Palestinians, with the main talk by anti-Zionist Auschwitz survivor Hajo Meyer. The event was criticised by Jon Benjamin, Board of Deputies chief executive, who said: "This latest attempt to exploit the most painful chapter in Jewish history in order to berate and demonise Israel is among the most despicable."
One audience member, the Holocaust survivor Rubin Katz, said that “the room was brimming with raging hatred, directed at Israel and Jews.” Other commentators saw things differently. One complained, in the Jewish Chronicle, about the presence of “Zionist hecklers who shamed Holocaust Memorial events”. One eye-witness complained about “the hounding of 85-year old Dr. Meyer, and the bellows of ‘boring!’ every time any survivor of a different genocide tried to tell about their experience.” Jonathan Hoffman, a vice-chair of the Zionist Federation, confirming his involvement in this protest, wrote that “the meeting descended into chaos no fewer than nine times, as we protested.” Eye-witnesses claim that another pro-Israel protester shouted “Sieg Heil” and gave a Nazi salute. Hoffman later justified the protests at Hajo Meyer’s talk, claiming that Dr. Meyer was “a raging anti-Semite. The fact that he was in Auschwitz for ten months is entirely irrelevant.”
In 2018, when he was asked about his involvement with the meeting, Corbyn said that "Views were expressed at the meeting which I do not accept or condone. In the past, in pursuit of justice for the Palestinian people and peace in Israel/Palestine, I have on occasion appeared on platforms with people whose views I completely reject."
Since 1996, 27 January has officially been Gedenktag für die Opfer des Nationalsozialismus (Day of Remembrance for the Victims of National Socialism) in Germany. Italy and Poland have adopted similar memorial days.
On 10 June 1999, Andrew Dismore MP asked Prime Minister Tony Blair about the creation of memorial day for the Holocaust. In reply, Tony Blair also referred to the ethnic cleansing that was being witnessed in the Kosovo War at that time and said:
I am determined to ensure that the horrendous crimes against humanity committed during the Holocaust are never forgotten. The ethnic cleansing and killing that has taken place in Europe in recent weeks are a stark example of the need for vigilance.
A consultation took place during October of that year. On 27 January 2000, representatives from forty-four governments around the world met in Stockholm to discuss Holocaust education, remembrance and research. At the conclusion of the forum, the delegates unanimously signed a declaration. This declaration forms the basis of the Statement of Commitment (see below) adopted for Holocaust Memorial Day.
In 2005 the United Nations voted, by 149 votes out of 191, to formally commemorate the Holocaust.
The statement of commitment for HMD in the UK was created after the Stockholm Declaration was agreed. It is a simplified version of the Stockholm Declaration, and includes a commitment to remember all victims of Nazi Persecution, and victims of all genocides. Many HMD activity organisers use this by arranging for participants to read from as part of their activity.
Between 2001 and 2007, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) expressed its unwillingness to attend the ceremony. The MCB instead called for a more inclusive day proposing the commemoration of deaths in Palestine, Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, along with the Holocaust. In a press release dated 26 January 2001 the Council listed two points of contention that prevented them from attending the event, which were that it "totally excludes and ignores the ongoing genocide and violation of Human Rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, in Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere" and that "It includes the controversial question of alleged Armenian genocide as well as the so-called gay genocide." The MCB did not send official representatives to any of the official events associated with Holocaust Memorial Day. The latter policy has been generally referred to as a boycott, although the MCB leadership has objected to the use of that term. In 2005 Iqbal Sacranie suggested that the deaths of Palestinians should also be remembered.
The MCB policy of withholding participation was condemned variously by Labour MP Louise Ellman, Peter Tatchell representing the lesbian and gay human rights group OutRage!, and Terry Sanderson of the British National Secular Society.
In a public and controversial interview on the BBC programme Panorama, Sir Iqbal Sacranie, the then General Secretary of the MCB, denied that the policy constituted a boycott. The MCB subsequently made an official complaint to the BBC that their position had been misrepresented by selective editing of the interview. This complaint was rejected by the BBC.
The MCB renewed their boycott for the 2009 commemoration, in reaction the 2008–2009 conflict in Gaza. Despite initially refusing to confirm whether or not they would take part in the 2010 commemoration, they eventually voted to send a junior representative, Dr Shuja Shafi, to attend the event in London.
The event also drew similar criticism in 2000 from the United Kingdom's Armenian community, who complained that the event remained exclusively for commemorating those who perished in the Holocaust, and not the Armenian Genocide. Neil Frater, an official from Tony Blair's Race Equality Unit, a branch of the Home Office, replied that it had consulted the Holocaust Memorial Day Steering Group on the issue and had agreed that while it understood that the Armenian Genocide was an "appalling tragedy", it wanted to "avoid the risk of the message becoming too diluted if we try to include too much history." Frater went on to say that it had gone on with the Steering Group's advice to reject the Genocide, along with the Crusades, colonialism and the Boer War. His comments were received with even more criticism. Zaven Messerlian, the principal of the Armenian Evangelical College in Beirut, Lebanon, stated that "any serious commemoration must include the aetiology of genocide, particularly those of the twentieth century, especially if one encouraged the next." The UK-based Refugee Council also supported this position, since the event was supposed to include "all victims of genocide."
The British government faced a flurry of public criticism for its decision not to include the Armenian Genocide, most notably in the daily newspaper The Independent from its chief Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk. After months of pressure, the government allowed 20 Armenian survivors to attend the event in its first annual commemoration. Armenians contended that the British government held out for so long because it wished to preserve its relationship with the successor state of the Ottoman Empire and NATO ally, Turkey.