Holocaust Memorial Day is commemorated on 27th January, the anniversary of the liberation in 1945 of the largest Nazi concentration camp – Auschwitz-Birkenau. Every year, we are urged to remember what can happen when racism, prejudice and hate are allowed to grow.
The world stared in horror at the scenes in Auschwitz. We cried for the victims, raged at the perpetrators, swore it must never happen again. And it didn’t.
Until the next time.
Since 1945, there have been many genocides:
Bangladesh in 1971, where up to 3 million people were killed by Pakistan,
East Timor. Since 1975, a third of the population has been killed by the Indonesian army.
1.7 million people died in the killing fields of Cambodia between 1975 and 1979, victims of the Khmer Rouge.
The Guatemalan army killed 200,000 Mayan men, women and children, many of them in “the silent holocaust” of 1981 to 1983.
In 1989, the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein gassed the town of Halabja, killing 5,000 people. It was widely known Iraq had carried out the attack, but many western countries chose to blame Iran instead. The officer responsible for the attack, Ali Hassam al-Majid, known as “Chemical Ali”, was executed on January 25th 2010.
In Bosnia in 1993, 8,000 Muslim men and boys were murdered in the UN “safe area” of Srebrenica by Bosnian Serbs, while UN peace keeping troops stood by and did nothing.
800,000 Tutsis were killed in 100 days in 1994 by the Hutu in Rwanda. TV channels actively called for Hutus to rid the country of Tutsis. The UN commander on the ground asked for reinforcements. The request was denied and he was ordered to withdraw instead.
Darfur in the Sudan, where Government backed militias are systematically “removing” the indigenous people. Some 70,000 have died since 2004 and 1.5 million have been displaced. Although the world acknowledged it as genocide, arguing and political debate hinder efforts to stop it.
World In Need was formed in 1991 as a direct result of Halabja and the suffering of the Kurdish people in its aftermath. We began with an immunisation programme, and quickly added schemes for income generation before establishing a sponsorship programme that enables children to gain the education that can turn dreams into reality. Children who would once have missed school to watch sheep or labour in fields now have careers in medicine, teaching and engineering.
We work in 20 countries including some of those listed above. Through child sponsorship, schools, feeding programmes, income generating programmes, we aim to give hope to people who otherwise have none.
This year, the theme for the Holocaust Memorial Day is “A Legacy of Hope”. It’s a legacy every one of us should leave, and one that everybody should receive.