First Minister Mark Drakeford has asked Wales to stand together and celebrate difference as the world marks the 75th anniversary of the Holocaust.
He joined Holocaust survivor Dr Martin Stern and Cardiff Council leader Huw Thomas at a national service of commemoration today (Monday January 27) at Cardiff’s City Hall to remember all those who were persecuted and killed during the Holocaust and other genocides around the world.
The service marked 75 years since Auschwitz was liberated and 25 years since the atrocities of Srebrenica in Bosnia. The service also follows last week’s order from the UN to prevent the genocide of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.
Other community leaders, representing people murdered in the Holocaust – including LGBTQI, gypsy and traveller, disability, race and faith groups – stood shoulder to shoulder at the event.
The First Minister said:
“Today is a painful day and I thank Dr Stern for using his touching story to remind us all about the power of tolerance.
“The Holocaust is a shameful event in history, which we must remember forever. It happened, like all genocides before and since, because people’s differences were used to whip up suspicion and drive divisions through society.
“We must stand together. We must celebrate our differences. And we must believe there is more that unites us than drives us apart. It’s the only way to make sure these sorry events stay exactly where they belong – in the history books.”
The First Minister signed the Book of Commitment, paying tribute to the victims and survivors of the Holocaust. In signing, he pledged to honour Holocaust Memorial Day.
The Leader of Cardiff Council, Cllr Huw Thomas, said:
“Cardiff has a proud history of being a diverse and welcoming city. Now more than ever, it is important that we stand together to uphold these traditions by protecting unity and fighting division.
“The 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau makes today’s Holocaust Memorial Day particularly poignant. Today we honour victims of genocide and remember that persecution still happens today. In remembrance we must take the opportunity to ensure such terrible acts of brutality never happen again.”
The event was the first in a busy schedule for Dr Stern, who will be greeted by schools, Welsh Muslim Cultural Foundation, prisons and other groups across South Wales over the coming week.
Having escaped Germany before the war, Dr Stern’s mother died shortly after giving birth to his younger sister, Erica. His Jewish father died in Buchenwald concentration camp, after spending time in Auschwitz.
In Amsterdam, Dr Stern and his sister were taken in by Dutch families, close to where Anne Frank hid. Dr Stern’s teacher had denied his attendance at school when soldiers came looking for him, but as an innocent five-year-old, he reached his hand up in the air and said, ‘But I am here’.
The walled ghetto of Theresienstadt would be the final destination for many who were sent there. But Dr Stern and his sister survived to see the fall of the Nazis.
The children were united with their aunt, who had found refuge in the UK, where Dr Stern has lived ever since. He became an immunologist and an expert in asthma. Now 80, he devotes his time to promoting education and tolerance.
Olivia Marks-Woldman, chief executive of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust said:
“We are pleased to be working once again with the Welsh Government to help people across Wales learn about the Holocaust and more recent genocides.
“We are delighted that so many students and community groups have the opportunity to hear from Dr Stern. His experiences are a powerful reminder of the consequences of unchecked discrimination and hatred, and should encourage us all to stand together against identity-based hostility of any kind.”
Students Lydia Lisk and Ella Rowlands, from Cardiff High School, shared their experience of a school visit to Auschwitz as part of the Holocaust Education Trust’s Lessons from Auschwitz project, which is supported by the Welsh Government.
The exhibition 75 Memorial Flames has been created by community groups to remember those who lost their lives during the Holocaust. Nine of the memorial flames were developed by groups in Wales, including entries from HM Prison Cardiff Art Group, Merthyr Tydfil Central Library, and the Association of Voluntary Organisations in Wrexham.
The 75 Flames exhibition will go on tour across the UK and will be available to view in Cardiff in February. A selection of the memorial flames will be on display in the Senedd this week until 29 January.