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It seems somewhat poignant then that the theme of this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day is to “stand together.” The Holocaust is not just a Jewish tragedy, but it is a lesson to all of us of all faiths in all times and a continuing reminder to stand with “others” when their rights and freedoms face attack.
Eternal appreciation and gratitude for non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews facing extermination from the Nazis is recognised by bestowing upon them the honorary title of “Righteous Among the Nations.” The award is recognised by a medal, certificate of honour, the privilege of having their name added to those on the Wall of Honour or tree planting in the Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem, the World’s Holocaust remembrance centre.
Perhaps the most well-known receiver of this title is Oskar Schindler, who is credited with saving the lives of 1,200 Jews by employing them in his enamelware and ammunitions factories in Nazi-occupied Poland at a time where deportation to labour and death camps was the fate for European Jews. Others include the Duke of Edinburgh’s mother, Princess Alice, who hid a Jewish widow and two of her five children risking deportation to the camps, and Iranian diplomat, Abdol Hossein Sardari, who issued Iranian passports to over 2,000 European Jews to facilitate their travel out of Nazi-occupied France in 1942.
To-date, 26,513 individuals from 51 countries have been awarded with the “Righteous Among the Nations” title in recognition of their brave and altruistic actions.
For many, the understanding of the Holocaust is largely focused on the six million Jews (two thirds of Europe’s Jewish population at the time) who perished at the hands of the Nazi Germany and its collaborators. This incomprehensible – almost unbelievable - detail of the Nazi’s devastating enterprise is a force for understanding not just what happened across Europe, but how it came to happen.
However we mark Holocaust Memorial Day, it is important to use the day to sharpen our awareness and understanding of extremism and the deadly violence it can licence. It is an opportunity to consider how hatred and intolerance of others has taken many forms and a reminder of the need to stand together in confronting the origins and workings of wickedness, to exercise vigilance and to prevent atrocities from happening again in the future.
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