Holocaust Memorial Day 2024

Never in my lifetime has there been a Holocaust Memorial Day more important than this one. There could be few better responses to the October 7th massacres, and their aftermath of war, hate, and humanitarian crisis, than January 27th’s annual cross-communal affirmation of our shared humanity. Yet it is precisely in the name of our common humanity that I’m tempted to observe this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day by not observing it. 

The task of international Holocaust remembrance days is less that of lamentation than the prevention of Holocaust denial and ethno-religious persecution. But through no fault of its laudable education programmes, genocide remembrance has surely fallen into a state of lethal disrepair when Israel’s defensive war with Hamas could be deliberately inverted as a genocide before the ground invasion of Gaza had even begun; when, in the court of antisemitic world opinion, Jews have forfeited their moral right to Holocaust remembrance, to sisterhood in the face of sexual violence, and even to the security and dignity of a sovereign state alongside a Palestinian one. It’s hard to ‘do’ Holocaust Memorial Day as it’s been done before when the word ‘genocide’ is being used in governments, newsrooms, and universities the world over as a rock hurled at Israel to make its war morally and practically unwinnable; when, even in a post-Christian global polity, accusations of Jewish collective guilt persist. 

It is not that it’s ‘the Holocaust again’, or that a Third Exile is imminent. Even so, the months since 7/10 have left me not quite knowing where the temporal and political boundaries of Holocaust Memorial Day begin and end.  As world Jewry awaits the outcome of the baseless and defamatory charge of genocide levelled against Israel at the International Court of Justice, I am reminded that our loquacious tradition knows well the powerful uses and misuses of silence.  So perhaps, this Holocaust Memorial Day, egregious abuses of memory might be most loudly protested by just a few of us stepping back from the annual rota of readings from Anne Frank’s diary and standing with all mourners in the common language of silence alone. 

Professor Emerita Melissa Raphael has served on what was then known as the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research and is on the faculty of Leo Baeck College, London.