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Holocaust Memorial Day

Holocaust Memorial Day is the day for everyone in the UK to remember the millions of people murdered in the Holocaust, under Nazi Persecution, and in the genocides which followed in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur.

It is commemorated annually on 27 January, which coincides with the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi concentration and extermination camp. 

The 27 January is also International Holocaust Remembrance Day, created by the United Nations (UN) in November 2005 through resolution 60/7. The UN urges every member nation to honour the memory of Holocaust victims and educate people on the Holocaust to help prevent future genocides.

The Holocaust 

Also known as 'The Shoah' in Hebrew was the attempt by the Nazis and their collaborators to murder all the Jews in Europe. 

Once the Nazis came to power, they introduced legislation intended to deny Jews freedom and restrict their rights. Boycotts of Jewish doctors, lawyers and shops began in 1933, as time progressed more restrictions were brought in-Jews were barred from all professional occupations, Jewish children were prohibited from attending state schools and their right to vote was removed.

On 9 November 1938 the Nazis initiated a night of vandalism, violence and persecution, 91 Jews were murdered, 30,000 were arrested and sent to concentration camps and 267 synagogues were destroyed. This night became known as Kristallnacht - the 'Night of Broken Glass'.

In response to this night of violence, British Home Secretary Sir Samuel Hoare agreed to speed up the immigration process by issuing travel documents on the basis of group lists rather than individual applications. The Kindertransport (Children's Transport) was a unique humanitarian rescue programme which ran between November 1938 and September 1939. Approximately 10,000 children, the majority of whom were Jewish, were sent from their homes and families in Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia to Great Britain.

The Ghettos

With the outbreak of World War Two in 1939 Germany invaded Poland, subjecting around two million Polish Jews to violence and forced labour. Thousands of Jews were murdered in the first few months of the occupation. In spring 1940 the Nazis established ghettos in the larger towns and cities across Poland. The establishment of ghettos was a measure to control, segregate and dehumanise.

The largest ghetto was Warsaw, where 400,000 Jews were crowded into 1.3 square miles of the city. As time went on, food restrictions were introduced and terrible conditions led to hundreds of thousands dying from disease or malnutrition, or the casual executions carried out by the Nazis.

All Jewish inhabitants of the ghettos were forced to wear a Star of David, making them instantly recognisable to the Nazi authorities. Many Jews were used as forced labour in factories and businesses outside of the ghetto.

The Einsatzgruppen

After the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 the Nazis stepped up their persecution through murder on an industrial scale. By December 1941 over 1.5 million Jews had been killed by beatings, starvation or mass shootings.

Gas chambers

By the end of 1941, more than one million Jews had been murdered by mobile killing squads. SS leaders began to become concerned that due the scale of the slaughter their men were carrying out, it could affect their mental health, so they began experimenting with alternative methods of killing. Vans were adapted which pumped their interiors full of carbon monoxide. Killing by gas had been pioneered by the Nazi killing of severely disabled people between 1939 and 1940. These gas vans were then used in Che┼émno, the first extermination camp and led to the development of permanent gas chambers in all extermination camps.

The Nazis wanted to 'improve' the  genetic make-up of the population and so persecuted people they deemed to be disabled, either mentally or physically, as well as gay people. Roma and Sinti people were also targeted. Political opponents, and social democrats, as well as those whose religious beliefs conflicted with their ideology, such as Jehovah's Witnesses, were also persecuted.

Other genocides remembered during Holocaust Memorial Day


The Khmer Rouge imposed an extremist programme to shape Cambodia on the communist model of Mao's China. Civilian deaths from execution, exhaustion and starvation, have been estimated at well over two million people.


After the plane carrying the Rwanda president was shot down Hutu leaders accused Tutsis of killing the president and radio and word of mouth messages told Hutu's how it was their duty to wipe out the Tutsis. Tutsi men, women, children and babies were killed by neighbours, workmates, former friends and even relatives through marriage. Approximately one million Tutsis were killed.


Following the death of Marshal Tito who ruled Yugoslavia from 1945 to 1980, nationalist parties began to gain power and in the early 1990's Yugoslavia disintegrated. After Bosnia declared independence in 1992 it soon descended into war. The war resulted in the deaths of around 100,000 people and over two million were displaced. The violence culminated in a massacre in and around Srebrenica which is the largest incidence of mass-murder in Europe since World War Two.  


In 2003, a civil war began in the region. The Sudanese government supported Arab militia, the Janjaweed, who destroyed hundreds of villages and murdered thousands of people. This civil war led to the deaths of between 200,000 and 400,000 civilians. Up to 2.6 million people are still displaced in Darfur.

Commemorative events

2022 - 'One Day'

Uri Winterstein told us how, at just 1 month old, he was put in the care of a non-Jewish woman because his parents realised that it would be very difficult to keep a baby quiet if they needed to go into hiding. Uri explained how nine of his wider family were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where they were killed. How his father, a member of an underground movement, attempted to halt the deportation of Jews by bribing key SS officers and government officials and how his father, then mother and sister were caught and sent to Terezin. When he was reunited with his family at the end of the war, aged 19 months old, he could not walk or talk. After the war and takeover of Czechoslovakia by the Communists in 1948, his family left the country and ended up in Brazil.

2021 - 'Be the light in the darkness'

Smajo Beso told us about his childhood in pre-war Bosnia and the modern, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural European country and how it quickly succumbed to hatred and intolerance. Smajo's father, along with most of his other male relatives were taken to a concentration camp where they were tortured and endured regular beatings. Smajo reflected on the difficulties of growing up including his experience of surviving on very little food and water, living in ruins and rubble, before fortunately escaping and coming to live in the North East of England.

2020 - 'Stand Together'

Hungarian-born Tomi Komoly told us how his family was torn apart when his father was called up to the forced labour unit of the Hungarian Army. Tomi spoke about his time in a walled ghetto, his escape with his mother in 1944 and liberation by the Soviet army in January 1945.

Gabriele Keenaghan who was awarded the British Empire Medal by the Queen in 2019 for her services to Holocaust education and awareness told the story of how her grandmother secured her a place on a kindertransport train from Austria to the UK. 

2019 - 'Torn from home'

Holocaust survivor Eva Clarke told us her families story. Eva was born in Mauthausen concentration camp, Austria on 29 April 1945. She and her mother are the only survivors of their family, 15 members of which were killed in Auschwitz-Birkenau: three of Eva's grandparents, her father, uncles, aunts and her 7-year-old cousin, Peter. 

Find out about future events

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