Today, we mark Holocaust Memorial Day and remember the millions of lives lost in the Holocaust and to genocide around the world.
Commemorated every year on January 27, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp in 1945, Holocaust Memorial Day provides an opportunity to honour the victims and survivors of genocide.
We came together as players, supporters and the community to mark the occasion through education and remembrance.
Arsenal students visit Auschwitz
Through our community team, we work closely with the Holocaust Education Trust, as well as Facing History, Stand Up!, and United Colleges Group to educate our participants on contemporary antisemitism and remember victims of the Holocaust.
This year, as part of the education workshops we run on this topic, two of our BTEC students, Lilybelle and Jen, told their peers about what they learned when they visited Auschwitz last year.
Sharing their experience at The Arsenal Hub, Jen explained their visit to both parts of the former concentration camp, Auschwitz and Birkenau.
"The walls were filled with photos of people that lost their lives in the Holocaust. It really put into perspective how many victims there were, and how many families were affected. You can watch movies or read books on the Holocaust, but when you go to Auschwitz it hits home how serious it was."
Lilybelle also spoke about the importance of educating others on what they had learnt.
"It made me appreciate everything I have. We met people there that still experience anti-semitic abuse today. We knew it was important for us to come back and educate people on this."
Lilybelle and Jen both plan to hold more workshops to raise awareness of the topic, alongside Arsenal in the Community.
"The work done by Arsenal in the Community is really helpful, especially for our age group. We want to continue that".
Both Jen and Lillybelle will speak in front of local MPs at Islington Council's Holocaust Memorial Event today, where they’ll share their thoughts on what can be done to further educate on the Holocaust.
Jewish supporters reflect on this year’s theme
This year’s theme for Holocaust Memorial Day is ‘Ordinary People’ and reminds us all how everyday people were involved in all aspects of the Holocaust, Nazi persecution, and the genocides that took place in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.
Rabbi Yoni Golker of the Magen Avot United Synagogue in Hendon, regards Holocaust Memorial Day as “a day of education”.
“It's a day to tell the world what took place within living memory to ensure that that will never ever happen again,” he said.
“One of the things that really stands out is how the Holocaust wasn't just committed by atrocious villains. It was ordinary people who facilitated persecution and it was ordinary people who were bystanders by turning a blind eye to the various regimes’ propaganda.
“Yet highlighting ordinary people also brings us all together. There's a huge unity in that. We're all in it together whether you play for Arsenal in the Premier League, or whether you're a fan who watches the game. We're all ordinary people with ordinary lives in one way or the other. This is something that affects the whole of humanity.”
Sami Steinbock, who is currently in the final stages of helping to set up an official supporters’ club Jewish Gooners, reflected on this year’s commemoration.
“Holocaust Memorial Day allows the country to come together and recognise the victims of genocide worldwide. It gives us a chance to reflect on the awful events that have occurred throughout history and remind us that persecution of ethnic minorities still happens today. Today is a reminder that ‘never again’ is more than just a word.
“We as people have the power to do a lot of good and unfortunately, we've also got the power to do a lot of bad. It's important that we remember the power we hold and maybe think twice about the things we say, be it in a football stadium, the pub or anywhere else.
“A whole group of us have been going to games together for years, but various things pushed us to start Jewish Gooners. Arsenal has always been a community for us and we've always felt welcome here. I've met people from different backgrounds that I'd never meet otherwise in life thanks to going to Arsenal, home and away. We decided it would be fantastic to merge some areas of our Jewish heritage and our love for the club.”
Councillor Laurence Brass, an Arsenal season ticket holder for sixty years, is similarly proud of our club’s long-standing connection with the Jewish community.
“Arsenal has always enjoyed huge support amongst the Jewish community. I’ve always been proud to be associated with a club that values its Jewish supporters, with our stadium located near the main centres of Jewish population in North London. All these connections mean a lot to the thousands of Jewish Arsenal supporters.
“Having personally led delegations to Auschwitz and Belsen Concentration Camps in my role as Vice President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, I am so pleased that Holocaust Memorial Day now has a higher profile in this country than ever before,” continued Laurence.
“I shall be lighting a candle at 4pm on January 27 to light the darkness that the Holocaust brought to so many lives, including members of my own family. I urge Arsenal supporters across the world to light their own candles and put them in their windows to show that the victims are not forgotten.
“Ordinary people over the ages have let genocide happen and it has been ‘ordinary people’ that were persecuted. Let’s hope that Arsenal’s ‘extraordinary’ supporters stand up to be counted as opponents of all types of discrimination.”
An education programme for our Academy
Across the past two seasons, we have worked with the Premier League and the Holocaust Educational Trust to conduct a series of educational workshops and experiences for our under-14 squad.
On the day itself, our under-14s will take part in a workshop on pre-war Jewish life and the Holocaust. A player will then give a memorial reading ahead of our match on January 29, where both teams will observe a minute’s silence.
Academy players who took part in last year’s education programme will share their learnings in February and this spring, our squad at Hale End will meet with a Holocaust survivor to learn about the atrocities through an individual’s story.
Remembering the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda
Holocaust Memorial Day is also a moment to bear witness to the genocides that took place in Rwanda, Cambodia, Bosnia and Darfur.
Johnston Busingye, High Commissioner for the Republic of Rwanda to the UK, had the following reflections.
“In 1994, the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda claimed the lives of over 1 million innocent people. Through decades of imposed separatist identification, hate-speech, exclusion and persecution of the Tutsi, promoted by a regime committed to ethnic extremism, we witnessed the unfolding stages of genocide that culminated in ordinary people being turned against and ready to betray, violate, and murder their neighbours. Our rebirth has been built on the twin pillars of unity and inclusion. Firm foundations have been laid for Rwandans not to yield to ethnic bigotry again.
“On Holocaust Memorial Day, Rwandans stand with the world against prejudice and hatred, to honour the memory of the millions of victims and survivors affected by the Holocaust and genocide around the world.
“If Never Again amongst Rwandans, and indeed other post-genocide societies, is to become a reality, we must identify, call out and defeat the final heinous stage of Genocide – the stage of denial. The responsibility falls on us, ordinary people, women, men, young and old, to stand together and counter denial and the hateful ideology from which it stems, wherever we encounter it in our daily lives.”
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