Holocaust Memorial Day 2024: Freedom cannot be taken for granted

Date published: 24 January 2024

Freedom is fragile and it cannot be taken for granted, attendees at the annual Holocaust Memorial Day Regional Commemoration were reminded.

Pictured (L-R) Rabbi David Kale MBE, Dr. Alfred Garwood, survivor of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and, Ryan Murphy, Lord Mayor of Belfast, Pelagie Buchanan, a survivor of the genocide in Rwanda and Gareth Johnston, TEO’s Deputy Secretary.

Nearly 300 people gathered at Belfast City Hall on Tuesday evening, January 23, to remember the millions of victims and survivors of the Holocaust and those impacted by the horrors of more recent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.

The theme of HMD 2024, ‘Fragility of Freedom’, highlights how delicate freedom is while remembering that despite this, in every genocide there are those who risk their own freedom to help others, to preserve others’ freedom or to stand up to the perpetrator regime.

The Regional Commemoration, hosted by The Executive Office in conjunction with the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and Belfast City Council, heard from Holocaust survivor Dr Alfred Garwood, who spoke movingly about the collective trauma felt by survivors after their freedoms had been stripped away.

Dr Garwood, who along with his family was interned at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp from 1943 - 1945, said: “I feel honoured and humbled to be asked to speak in Belfast for Holocaust Memorial Day.

“Being a Holocaust Survivor, later a physician, a psychiatrist and a psychotherapist, having endured the troubled times of the Second World War and the Holocaust it has taught me to recognise the suffering of communities who have endured generations of conflict. I believe the Northern Ireland community have shown great courage and creativity in working towards, maintaining and protecting their precious and fragile freedom and peace."

Gareth Johnston, The Executive Office’s Deputy Secretary of Good Relations and Inclusion, also spoke at the event.

He said: “We often take for granted the many freedoms we enjoy every day: the freedom to choose where we live; the freedom to express an opinion; the freedom to shape for ourselves the path we follow in life. It can be easy to forget that not everyone shares these freedoms. They are fragile and need to be protected.

“Holocaust Memorial Day reminds us that we cannot take our freedoms for granted - that we all have a responsibility to do what we can to strengthen freedoms in our society and beyond by making a stand against hate, intolerance and prejudice.

“On behalf of The Executive Office, I am honoured to be part of the Regional Commemoration as we pause for reflection, to remember the terrible atrocities of the past, and to focus on how we can all play our part in building a positive future.”

Among those who attended the NI Regional Commemoration were members of the local Jewish community and representatives of other faith groups and minority ethnic communities.

Speaking at the event, Belfast Lord Mayor, Councillor Ryan Murphy, said: “Holocaust Memorial Day reminds us of the many lives cut short and shattered because of the holocaust and subsequent genocides.

“It exists to ensure that we remember and learn from the atrocities of the past and our ability to interrupt expressions of division, race and hatred.”

Olivia Marks-Woldman, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, said: “I’m delighted that Northern Ireland is once again marking Holocaust Memorial Day. Our theme this year - Fragility of Freedom - serves as a stark reminder of the delicate nature of freedom.

“The Holocaust and more recent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur are a testament to the grave consequences that arise when freedoms are eroded. So, as we gather in our communities, across boundaries of faith, age, and ethnicity, we must learn from genocide – for a better future. We owe it to the victims and survivors to honour their memory through action, challenging prejudice and promoting understanding across communities and generations. By learning from the past, we can create a present where freedom is cherished, protected, and shared by all.”

Notes to editors: 

  1. HMD photograph 2024 caption: Pictured (L-R) marking Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) 2024 regional commemoration event at Belfast City Hall are: Rabbi David Kale MBE, Dr. Alfred Garwood, survivor of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and keynote speaker at the commemoration, Councillor Ryan Murphy, Lord Mayor of Belfast, Pelagie Buchanan, a survivor of the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda and Gareth Johnston, The Executive Office’s Deputy Secretary of Good Relations and Inclusion.
  2. Holocaust Memorial Day was initiated in 2000 to remember the victims and survivors of the Holocaust and to raise awareness and understanding of the events of the Holocaust and subsequent genocides as a continuing issue for all humanity. The date, 24 January, was chosen as it was the date of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in 1945.
  3. The theme chosen by Holocaust Memorial Day Trust for Holocaust Memorial Day 2024 is ‘'the Fragility of Freedom’.  For more information, log on to www.hmd.org.uk
  4. Further information about Dr Alfred Garwood is available online at: www.marchoftheliving.org.uk/survivor-story/alfred-garwood/
  5. A video of the HMD 2024 Regional Commemoration will be available to view online from January. For further details log on to www.hmd.org.uk

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