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'It's even more vital for councils to mark Holocaust Memorial Day'

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In just over a month, thousands of people across the UK will come together to mark Holocaust Memorial Day.

The commemoration takes place on 27 January each year on the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau – the largest Nazi extermination camp. It is a time to remember the millions of people murdered during the Holocaust under Nazi persecution and in the genocides which followed in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.

Holocaust Memorial Day is a time when we seek to learn the lessons of the past and recognise that genocide does not just take place on its own. It’s a steady process which can begin if discrimination, racism and hatred are not checked and prevented.

Although the day is an occasion to remember the past, discrimination has not ended, nor has the use of the language of hatred or exclusion. The latest figures from the Home Office show a deeply concerning trend.

In the year 2017-18, there were 94,098 hate crime offences recorded by the police in England and Wales. That is an increase of 17% from the previous year, suggesting that prejudice not only continues to exist, but is growing stronger.

There is still much to do to create a safer future and marking Holocaust Memorial Day is a crucial part of this.

In 2016, a study into the impact of Holocaust Memorial Day carried out by the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University found that people’s attitudes were positively affected by marking it. 66% of respondents said that they were more sympathetic towards the situation of people from different backgrounds.

The commemoration is also empowering people to act: 76% of respondents said that after marking Holocaust Memorial Day they would make a greater effort to stand up to the unfair treatment of others. This is a real demonstration of how the lessons of the past can inform our lives today and ensure everyone works together to create a safer, better future.

At the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, our mission is to promote and support the commemoration across the UK, and in 2018 more than 11,000 activities were organised to mark the day. 500 of these were organised by local authorities, and we hope that more councils than ever before will join us to mark the day in 2019.

We understand that local authorities are facing unprecedented budget pressures, so we have produced tailored resources so that any council which wishes to mark Holocaust Memorial Day is able to – whatever their resources.

Local authorities are uniquely connected to the communities they serve. By marking Holocaust Memorial Day councils can use these connections not only to reflect on the past but also to support and empower the different communities in their areas. We hope that councils across the UK will take the chance to do so.

Claudia Hyde, local government Holocaust Memorial Day officer, Holocaust Memorial Day Trust

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