Today marks Holocaust Memorial Day.
It’s an important opportunity for us all to reflect on the tragic events of the Holocaust.
I recently signed the Holocaust Educational Trust’s book of commitment, in which I vowed to continue honouring those lost in this event.
And last night I spoke at a Memorial Day event at Horizon Community College, where I was joined by brave Holocaust survivor Iby Knill.
I spoke of this year’s theme: the power of words; how incredible survivors like Iby’s have done so much to educate us on the appalling events that took place, and how ours must ensure these lessons of history have been learned, and shall never be repeated.
You can read my full words from my speech below:
“It’s a pleasure to be here and be able to take part in this incredibly important holocaust memorial event.
I thank those who have organised the memorial, and continue to help us all commemorate this day.
I was to start by addressing this year’s theme; the power of words.
Particularly relevant, perhaps now as much as ever it’s important to draw attention to the impact words can have.
Words can provoke and incite, or prevent and placate.
They can be used for better and for worse, to cause pain and cure it.
And the Holocaust that we commemorate today serves as a constant reminder of the devastating occurrences that can begin simply through the power of words.
Because it wasn’t through the immediate incitement of violent anti-Semitism that this event began.
Friends didn’t turn on friends, or neighbour on neighbour overnight, inhabited by hatred.
It began with implicit and subtle propaganda; through passing references in newspapers and on radios.
Children were warned; taught to fear and distrust their classmates by teachers and textbooks.
Stereotypes were developed in caricature, as Jews were labelled and categorised.
Words were the platform that provided the base for worse to grow.
For the perpetrators of the most appalling acts of violence and anti-Semitism in the holocaust who managed to spread hatred through a society and justify their sickening acts against their friends, colleagues, and neighbours:
Their words were power.
But much as they were used by Nazis and perpetrators of genocide across the world, words also provided an outlet for their victims that experienced these events.
Solace was found in the written word; letters and poems about loves ones provoked memories of different times.
Diaries kept provided a reason and motive, simply to keep going.
For those trapped in the darkest moments, words could provide them with even the smallest spark of courage and hope. For them:
Their words were power.
And after the holocaust, too, survivors showed the effect the word can have.
Brave survivors of the event such as our incredible guest here tonight have relived their own experiences for the betterment of future generations.
From courtrooms to classrooms, their words have been vital.
Their difficult memories have been passed to us, used as proof of atrocities committed and a warning of what should never again become.
These incredible stories and cautions from extraordinary people show that again,
Their words are power.
And it is from these lessons that we here must vow to learn.
Because despite them, we can see the same patterns of history attempting to repeat themselves.
Immigrants are demonised, refugees dehumanised, the plight and discrimination of historically marginalised groups denied, and the experiences of Jews met with appalling attempts to de-legitimise.
A fractured and divided society has leant itself to a malicious intolerance in too many cases, whilst the advent of the internet has accelerated many direct forms of vitriolic bigotry.
That’s why it’s incumbent on us, as the current and future generations to never forget that what may for now be words, can soon become more.
I’ll finish by remembering the powerful words of Anne Frank, who wrote:
“I want to go on living, even after my death.”
As the holocaust slowly moves from living memory to recent history, we must use our own words where others no longer can, and ensure legacies like hers live on.
We must tackle subtle propaganda, reject bigotry in all its forms, and stand against the features of our society that insidiously seek to repeat the errors of the past.
We must never forget history, but learn its lessons, and take this on ourselves, because now:
Our words are power.