The Chair of NIFF, William Duncan, gave the following speech at this years Holocaust Memorial event.
Holocaust Memorial Day
Wednesday 24th January 2018
Great Hall, Guildhall
I’m the Chair of the Northampton Inter Faith Forum.
We must never forget those who were killed in the Holocaust, the pain of the survivors, and the grief suffered by relatives and friends.
Holocaust Memorial Day is also a time to remind ourselves of the need to accept others who are different from ourselves.
Eleven million people, including six million Jews, were systematically murdered in the Holocaust. Men, women and children were taken from their homes in every country in Europe. They were deported and murdered because of their race or their religion, or because of their political views, or sexual orientation, or because of disabilities, or because they belonged to a minority group such as the Roma Gypsies.
The German Pastor Martin Niemoller who was taken and imprisoned because he opposed the Nazis’ state control of the churches, expressed it in this way:
First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me.
His poem reminds us, regrettably, that when we see someone else being harassed, or attacked, or unjustly accused, it is easy to look away, not get involved, and say nothing.
Martin Niemoller was a Holocaust survivor even though he spent five years in the notorious Nazi concentration camps of Sachsenhausen and Dachau. After liberation by the Allied forces, he expressed his deep regret about not having done enough to help the victims of the Nazis.
When the worst human acts of intimidation and terror are committed, there are some people who immediately react in a remarkable and humane way. They respond to defend and help the victims, with great courage and compassion, at their own personal risk. Their stories during the war or when acts of terror occur, such as in Manchester and London last year, give us inspiration and hope. They are brave examples to follow.
Holocaust Memorial Day is when other genocides must be remembered too. Those in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur are examples from recent decades. The underlying causes are similar: discrimination and nonacceptance of others because of their religion or race, or because of some other spurious reason. Political leaders can then whip up these feelings into hatred and bloody conflict.
We should know by now that genocide does not take place on its own, it’s a steady process which can begin if discrimination, racism and hatred start and are not checked and prevented.
The stirring up of hatred and discrimination is, of course, always wrong and, if left unchecked, can lead to terrible evil.
Members of the Northampton Inter Faith Forum are all too aware of the discrimination and hate crime in our society today. As you may know, we are doing something about it. In 2016 we launched our Hate Crime Project, called Crane Project, named after the origami paper cranes that are now an international symbol of peace.
The Crane Project campaigns against discrimination and provides a straightforward mechanism for the reporting of any hate crime. The reporting can be made to the Police or recorded anonymously so that there is at least a record of the incidents and when and where they occurred. There is also compassionate support available for the victims of hate crime.
The Crane Project is just one of the many activities that the Northampton Inter Faith Forum are engaged in to dispel prejudice and create more harmony in our society.
We must never forget the Holocaust and how easily a society can be divided. Our Forum members stand together.
We organise events that will bring people of different faiths together. Our meetings are friendly and joyful.
We are able to celebrate and enjoy the rich diversity in our local society, and I can tell you from personal experience that we are achieving the Forum’s aims of building Understanding, Respect and Friendship between people of different faiths.
We are only one Forum among 300 or so that now exist throughout the UK. It is not a minority movement. Together, we are counteracting the smouldering discrimination that, left unchecked, can spark into terrible conflicts.
Together, our individual members are making a significant difference.