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Holocaust Memorial Day 2011

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Mr Mayor, Aldermen and Councillors, Distinguished Guests, ladies and gentlemen, I am honoured to be with you this evening for the tenth regional Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration, organised and supported by the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister.

Holocaust Memorial Day gives us an opportunity to reflect on the consequences of discrimination and persecution and learn from lessons of the past. It is a time to remember those who have been murdered during the Holocaust and in subsequent genocides such as in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur.

As we have heard, the theme for the commemoration this year is “Untold Stories”. It is easy to talk about the numbers murdered and persecuted during the Holocaust and the genocides. It is impossible to truly appreciate what these figures mean. The 11 million people murdered by the Nazis were not a statistic. They were individuals. Somebody’s friend, neighbour or colleague -somebody’s mother, father or child
We will never know all of the names whose lives were lost. We can never hear their stories. But no matter how difficult we may find it, we must continue to listen.

We can find out what life was like for people such as Janina Fischler-Martinho (Yanina Fishler-Martin-ho) who was forced to live in the Krakow Ghetto.

We can read about the experience of Darfuri survivor Halima Bashir. We can explore the heartbreaking  decision made by Trude Silman’s parents to send their daughter away to the UK for safety and we can ask how that changed her life and what happened to her after her arrival. We can commit to learn more about the victims including the fate of Europe’s Roma and Sinti or those who were persecuted based on their sexual orientation, disability, political affiliation, religious belief or skin colour. Holocaust Memorial Day 2011 provides us with the opportunity to do this.

Today, in many communities we live alongside refugees from across the world. On Holocaust Memorial Day 2011 let us ask ourselves if we know their stories
By listening – really listening to the experiences of those survivors who choose to share their stories teaches us the meaning of courage, resilience and dignity.  It teaches us that life is precious.

On Holocaust Memorial Day 2011 we can, in numerous ways make Untold Stories part of our safer future. We can share Untold Stories with our friends, families and colleagues. We can make the lessons of these stories an inspiration for our behaviour. But above all, today we remember those millions of individuals whose opportunity to live full and happy lives was so cruelly taken from them.
No other event in current history has created so many incredible stories of courage and humanity.  For many reasons the heroes of these stories have not talked about their experiences. Only now, as many have aged, with the passing of time are they ready to share their experiences.

Eugene Black, a Holocaust Survivor, did not speak about what happened to him for fifty years. He was 16 years old when he arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau (auw-sch-vitz   birk-en-auw). He was immediately separated from his mother, father and two sisters. He had no opportunity to say goodbye and never saw them again. Eugene was moved to Buchenwald (buch – en – valt) Concentration Camp and was forced to work in the tunnels at the Dora-Mittelbau (mittel – bauw) Labour Camp.
He was eventually liberated from Bergen Belsen. Eugene now regularly speaks about the atrocities that he experienced in his youth. In doing so he has joined a group of survivors who work extremely hard to make sure that the Holocaust will never be forgotten.

Eugene’s dearest wish and hope is for us to live in harmony, to respect each other and to learn to live and let live.

We all have the opportunity to use Holocaust Memorial Day to learn the lessons of the past, to help us create a safer, better future .

Thank you

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