‘Hate is not welcome in this city’: Manchester remembers Holocaust 70 years on

By the time World War Two ended in 1945, six million Jews had been murdered by the Nazi regime.

It was a racially aggravated hate campaign, led by Adolf Hitler and his fanatic supporters, which allowed two out of every three European Jews to brutally lose their lives.

And now 70 years on, Manchester continues to remember those devastating events, which attempted to annihilate Jewish communities in Europe, and commemorate the ensuing genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.

Bev Craig, Labour Councillor for Burnage, and assistant executive of UNISON, believes it is important to educate young people of the atrocities that occurred.

“Holocaust Memorial Day serves as a stark reminder of what happened. Millions of people lost their lives, and not just in the Holocaust in Germany in World War Two,” she told MM.  

“It also serves as a reminder for genocides that have happened since then, and I think it is important that we learn lessons from the past so that we can make sure that it doesn’t happen in the future.

“For survivors of the Holocaust, it is a very personal and raw experience that themselves and their families have experienced directly, but one thing we try to do in Manchester is make it not just a responsibility of Jewish communities to promote this, but make sure that cross-community activities are bringing people together to teach them the repercussions of hate.

“I think that Manchester being such a diverse, tolerant city allows it to feel natural that we would educate our young people about the rich histories and atrocities that a lot of our communities are faced with.”

January 27 is globally recognised as Holocaust Memorial Day, and this year marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi concentration camp.

The 20th anniversary of the Genocide in Srebrenica, Bosnia, will also be commemorated in 2015.

Professor Jean-Marc Dreyfus, Reader in Holocaust Studies (shoah) at the University of Manchester, told MM: “It’s an important day now, but that was not always the case. It has become important in the last ten years. Before, it was rather neglected, especially in Britain.

“It’s important now because it’s the commemoration of the most horrific event in European history, and it is as if the further away we are from the event, the more visible the event is becoming, which is quite a paradox.

“Of course we can learn how to prevent genocide, but we know that it has not been efficient, because genocide occurred after the Holocaust, and at least two have been acknowledged in Rwanda and Cambodia.

“But I think the most important lesson is about tolerance, because we know that the Holocaust started with hatred and prejudice at the very beginning. So in order to disconnect and dismantle any possibility of racial hatred and violence, we need to work towards tolerance and it’s very difficult.

“It’s every day and it’s an ongoing process. It’s a continuous fight and we know that very often they are not successful. Look at what happened in France two weeks ago. That was not a genocide of course. That was very different but it breeds on the same hatred and hatred towards differences.”

Anti-Semitic attacks across Manchester and the UK are currently at their highest levels in three decades, and in a poll conducted by YouGov for the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, 45 percent of contributors agreed with at least one anti-Semitic standpoint that was shown to them.

Findings show a shocking one in six people believe that Jews have ‘too much power in the media’.

That may seem relatively small in comparison to the enormity of the Holocaust, but it ‘breeds on the same hatred’.

Councillor Craig believes that taking a robust approach to any racially negative ideologies is essential to preserving Manchester’s multi-cultural make-up, from which the city has become home to the second largest Jewish community in the UK.

“Manchester has a very strong history of being a tolerant and safe city,” she said.

“Unfortunately, some of our community face racism, homophobia and intolerance, but that is from across the community, you can’t just pin that on one particular group of people. As a city, we try to take an active and public role in bringing people together, and obviously taking a hard line on racism, homophobia and disabilism as well.

“With Holocaust Memorial day here in Manchester, we involve the equality team from the City council. This year they are heavily involved and there will be a film showing that is particularly targeting school children and schools from across Manchester.

“They have been invited to the event, and it recognises the role that we have with young people in schools and other forums, to teach them that there should be no hate, and hate is not something that is welcome in this city.”

Following the January 7 Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris, and the subsequent police operations across Europe to quell extremist Islamic activities, a climate of fear has taken hold, not just in Europe, but all over the world.    

But despite the panic, Professor Dreyfus has urged people not to confuse current anti-Semitic and anti-Islam ideologies with the nature of the Holocaust.

He said: “This tragedy of tension is being created by terrorists. They make the Jews a target, but also the Muslims. Islamaphobic, anti-Muslim incidents are occurring, and are on the rise in France and in Europe too.

“In the last two weeks, there have been over 100 anti-Muslim aggression incidents in France . So the Muslims are also victims of hatred and prejudice, and so are the Jews.

“But the Holocaust was a state led genocide. Here we have something absolutely different. The French state and the British state in Europe, they are fighting Islamism, they are fighting these new ideologies, so we are in a totally different setting to that of the 1930s before the Holocaust.”

The theme this year is Keeping the Memory Alive, and there are several events happening across Manchester to mark Holocaust Memorial Day. The Manchester Jewish museum is running a free event on Tuesday at 1.30pm, where Holocaust survivor, Yisrael Abeles, will be speaking about his experiences.

Councillor Craig will be attending a film screening at the Cornerhouse, which will be followed by an address from the Lord Mayor, and statements of commitment from different community members about their efforts to prevent discrimination.

“I’m the lead member for LGBT women, and obviously there were other communities that were persecuted by the Nazis also,” she said.

“So it’s important that a very wide section of the communities speak at these events.      

“It’s about finding stories that people can connect with, and helping people to understand the roles that lots of different individuals had in it, and the roles which lots of different individuals must carry out today.”

Holocaust Memorial Day is tomorrow – Tuesday January 27. 

Image courtesy of Sarmax, with thanks.

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