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Holocaust Memorial Day: learning from the past for a better future

11 November 2019  
Holocaust Memorial Day: learning from the past for a better future

Holocaust Memorial Day: learning from the past for a better future

WHAT we learn in libraries has a lasting impact on our lives. Whether it’s through reading books, accessing information online or attending events – libraries are the local community’s portal to knowledge. Libraries therefore have a crucial role to play in teaching us about the past, and ensuring we all learn lessons from it. On Holocaust Memorial Day, which takes place every year on 27 January, we learn these lessons from the past in order to build a better future.

What is Holocaust Memorial Day?
Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) is the international day when we remember the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust, the victims of Nazi persecution and those murdered in genocides which have taken place since, in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. It takes place on 27 January because this date marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp. HMD is for everyone. It is a time when we seek to learn the lessons of the past and recognise that genocide does not just take place on its own – it’s a steady process which can begin if discrimination, racism and hatred are not checked and prevented. There is still much to do to create a safer future and HMD is an opportunity to start this process. That’s why, on HMD, we not only remember the past – we take action to create a better future which is free of genocide and all other forms of identity-based hostility. What’s more, we know that HMD helps us achieve this. In 2016, a study into the impact of HMD carried out by Sheffield Hallam University found that 70 per cent of respondents who had taken part in an HMD activity became more aware of the causes and conditions that can lead to genocide. Seventy-six per cent of respondents said HMD inspired them to make a greater effort to stand up to the unfair treatment of others. HMD is providing people across the UK with the opportunity to come together to learn, remember and reflect.

Learning in libraries
“Libraries in Edinburgh traditionally welcome all into safe learning environments and we believe HMD is an opportunity for all the diverse strands of our communities to come together”, says Liz McGettigan, former President of CILIP Scotland and Head of Libraries for Edinburgh City Council. “It’s also an opportunity for groups or organisations to remember the past and commit to creating a better future.” Through novels, journals, archives, history books and films, libraries make an enormous contribution to education about the Holocaust and genocide. They also unite a diverse range of people through the activities and services they run, and foster togetherness in the local community. Through local libraries, members of the public have the opportunity to discover the wealth of material available covering the many different aspects of the Holocaust, genocide and discrimination. While non-fiction books and resources equip us with the facts we need to challenge misinformation, prejudice and denial, fiction can capture a range of experiences and emotions, helping us to understand complex issues on a human level.

Involved libraries
For Holocaust Memorial Day 2019, libraries across the UK organised more than 800 activities, including book and poster displays, film screenings and talks. In doing so, libraries brought their communities together to educate, reflect and become stronger and more resilient to hate.

Holocaust Memorial Day 2020
The theme for HMD 2020 is Stand Together. It explores how genocidal regimes throughout history have deliberately fractured societies by marginalising certain groups, and how these tactics can be challenged by individuals standing together with their neighbours, and speaking out against oppression. HMD 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi camp. This is a significant milestone and is made particularly poignant by the dwindling number of survivors who are able to share their testimony. It also marks the 25th anniversary of the genocide in Bosnia. Today there is increasing division in communities across the UK and the world. It is incumbent on all of us to stand together with others in our communities in order to stop division and the spread of identity-based hostility in our society. It is more important now than ever that libraries join us in marking HMD and rejecting ideas that divide us. Get Involved We are looking forward to seeing libraries from all different sectors and parts of the UK taking part in HMD 2020. The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust (HMDT) is the charity that promotes and supports HMD commemoration across the UK. We offer a range of support to libraries to help them mark HMD in their communities. Here are a few ideas for how your library can get involved:

  • Explore ideas, case studies and resources using our dedicated resource “Get Involved Guide for Libraries” at

  • Make a display in the weeks around HMD using posters, poems, books and other free resources available on our website at

  • Host a film screening for the local community

  • Discuss a work of fiction or non-fiction with a reading group

  • Take part on social media using the hashtags #StandTogether and #HMD2020.

  • Library Contribution
    We are always eager to find out about the informative, poignant and creative ways that libraries mark HMD. Here are just some examples of the incredible contribution that libraries have made to HMD in recent years:

    In 2019, the AK Bell Library in Perth, Scotland, hosted a powerful photo exhibition about the persecution of Roma people under the Nazi regime. The exhibition was assembled by the Gypsy/Traveller-led inter-cultural project Rajpot and shone a light on this important but frequently-overlooked part of history.

    Also in 2019, Manchester Central Library hosted the UK premiere of ‘Who Will Write Our History’, a film telling the story of how thousands of documents were preserved for future generations by a small number of brave inhabitants of the Warsaw Ghetto. There were also performances during the afternoon by young people in Manchester reflecting on the 2019 theme.

    In 2018, Tooting Library in London put up a display of posters and books about the Holocaust and genocides. There was a special display in the Children’s section with a ‘wishing tree’, where children reflected on the materials to write their wishes for the world on a leaf and added it to the collaborative display.

    In 2017, Blackwood Library in Caerphilly, Wales, commemorated HMD with a special meeting of their county-wide Great Library Bake Off. At their meeting in January, poems were displayed and read aloud to the group, in addition to life stories from survivors of genocide. A Tree of Kindness was created: library staff and visitors were invited to write thoughts and messages about HMD onto paper leaves, which were then attached to the tree. They also shared cultural dishes, such as a traditional Jewish apple cake, and displayed books and posters with information about HMD.

    Please tell us how you get involved by visiting

    Contributor: Olivia Marks-Woldman, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Memorial Trust

    Published: 28 October 2019

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