Holocaust Memorial Day takes place every year on 27 January, it is a day to remember the millions of people murdered in the Holocaust under Nazi persecution and subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur. 2020 is a significant year - marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
HMD 2020 also marks the 25th anniversary of the genocide in Bosnia. It's also an opportunity to honour survivors and highlight their stories to ensure future generations never forget. The ceremony is organised by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, one of Prince Charles' patronages.
Kensington Palace said: "The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust (HMDT) promotes and supports Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD). HMD has taken place in the UK since 2001, with a UK event and over 10,000 local activities taking place on or around the 27th January each year. Each year across the UK, thousands of people come together to learn more about the past, honour the survivors and all those whose lives were changed beyond recognition, and take action to create a safer future. The HMDT works in partnership with many organisations to ensure the life stories of survivors are shared with hundreds of thousands of people."
'As they arrived, the royal couple were greeted by Olivia Marks-Woldman, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, Sir Ben Helfgott, honorary president and a prominent Holocaust survivor. William told them, “We were talking this morning about how you carry on this message for future generations. We will do our best.”
Last night, it was revealed the Duchess had photographed two Holocaust survivors, Steven Frank and Yvonne Bernstein, with their grandchildren. The portraits will form part of a new exhibition due to open later this year. The project aims "to inspire people across the UK to consider their own responsibility to remember and share the stories of those who endured persecution at the hands of the Nazis."
The Duchess described the experience as a "privilege", adding the stories she heard "will stay with me forever". Kate continued: "While I have been lucky enough to meet two of the now very few survivors, I recognise not everyone in the future will be able to hear these stories first hand. It is vital that their memories are preserved and passed on to future generations, so that what they went through will never be forgotten". Click here to read the post on Kate's portraits in its entirety.
Inside, the Duchess reunited with Yvonne Bernstein.
At the end of the video below, you can hear Kate (towards the end) telling Yvonne: "You were brilliant, you were very patient with me."
Hello!'s Emily Nash was reporting from the event: "After a deeply moving ceremony, William and Kate told survivors they had spoken to their children about the Holocaust. 'We were talking to the children about it earlier today,' Kate told Mala Tribich, who survived Bergen-Belsen and now tells her story in schools."
William and Kate spent time with survivors and their families.
Presented by Huw Edwards, it included performances from cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason, accompanied by his brother Braimah, as well as Sir Simon Russell Beale, Rebecca Front, Nina Wadia, Georgina Campbell and the Fourth Choir.
William and Kate participated in a candle-lighting ceremony on the stage with survivors.
Six candles were lit - each marking one million Jews who perished during the Holocaust. Below, footage of Yvonne lighting her candle.
Six candles of remembrance were lit at the front of the ceremony by survivors of the Holocaust and recent genocides to represent the 6 million Jews who lost their lives.— Kensington Palace (@KensingtonRoyal) January 27, 2020
Prince William gave a reading with a very special family connection - a letter from a friend of his late great-grandmother Princess Alice (Prince Philip's mother) revealing the extent of her efforts to help a Jewish family during the Holocaust.
The Telegraph reports:
'The Duchess appeared emotional as her husband read the extract from a letter about Princess Alice's bravery.
It said: "It was thanks to the courageous rescue of Princess Alice that the members of the Cohen family were saved.
"The members of the Cohen family left the residence three weeks after liberation, aware that by virtue of the Princess's generosity and bravery had spared them from the Nazis."
It went on to reveal that Mrs Cohen's great-granddaughter, Evy Cohen, said two years ago: "My family would not exist without the courageous act of Princess Alice. Her story of incredible courage must keep being told in her memory.
"My generation, the past generation and the future generation are, and will eternally be, grateful to his great-grandmother Princess Alice for the great act of bravery, risking her own life to take in a family in need."'
Indeed, just last week Prince Charles visited his grandmother's tomb on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. Speaking to world leaders at Yad Vashem he said: "I have long drawn inspiration from the selfless actions of my dear grandmother, Princess Alice of Greece, who in 1943, in Nazi-occupied Athens, saved a Jewish family by taking them into her home and hiding them. My grandmother, who is buried on the Mount of Olives, has a tree planted in her name here at Yad Vashem, and is counted as one of the Righteous Among the Nations – hasidei ummot ha`olam – a fact which gives me, and my family, immense pride." Below, a young Prince Philip with his mother.
As patron, Prince Charles wrote the foreword for the ceremony's programme:
'As Patron, I would like to extend a warm welcome to you all to the National Commemorative Ceremony for Holocaust Memorial Day 2020.
The commemoration of seventy-five years since the camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated is truly an occasion of national significance and I am heartened to hear of thousands of events taking place in all parts of the United Kingdom to mark this sombre, but significant anniversary.
With the invaluable support of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, people of all ages and backgrounds are enabled to learn from the Holocaust and more recent genocides.
Today is also the beginning of a whole year of reflection, as it also marks the seventy-fifth anniversaries of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen and Dachau camps, as well as the commemorations, later in the year, of the end of the Second World War itself. In July we will mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the genocidal massacre in Srebrenica, Bosnia. While all these occasions call us to remember, they must also call us to resolve that such unutterable evil shall never again be allowed to grow.
As we stand at the milestone of seventy-five years since the end of the Holocaust, it is natural to reflect on how far we have come and what society might have learned since those dreadful events.
We can reflect that if we have found how devastating hatred can be, we have found that hope is stronger still. If we have seen the worst of human nature, we are the better prepared to guard against it.
With such sobering knowledge comes great responsibility. Wherever we see malice that seeks to marginalise; wherever identity is subjected to hostility, we must, as this year’s theme reminds us, Stand Together to oppose it.
This seventy-fifth anniversary is therefore a time for us all to resolve to act with greater compassion, greater humanity and greater courage, so that, guided by lessons from this darkest time in our shared history, we can create a shared future where no such shadows can fall.'
The HMDT shared the following on this year's theme Stand Together: "The theme for HMD 2020 is Stand Together. It explores how genocidal regimes throughout history have deliberately fractured societies by marginalising certain groups, and how these tactics can be challenged by individuals standing together with their neighbours, and speaking out against oppression. In the years leading up to the Holocaust, Nazi policies and propaganda deliberately encouraged divisions within German society – urging ‘Aryan’ Germans to keep themselves separate from their Jewish neighbours. The Holocaust, Nazi Persecution of other groups and each subsequent genocide, was enabled by ordinary citizens not standing with their targeted neighbours."
This moving creation is part of the memorial flames exhibition we mentioned earlier in the post. It includes a portion of Pavel Friedmann's haunting poem 'The Butterfly'.
When he was 21 years old, Pavel Friedmann was sent to Theresienstadt concentration camp where he penned the piece on a thin scrap of paper. Pavel was moved to Auschwitz in 1944 where he sadly died. The poem was discovered after the camps were liberated and donated to the Jewish Museum in Prague.
The poem inspired an exhibition at the Holocaust Museum Houston where 1.5 million paper butterflies were created to symbolize the number of children who perished in the Holocaust. The remembrance project has travelled all over the world.
The last, the very last,
So richly, brightly, dazzlingly yellow.
Perhaps if the sun's tears would sing
against a white stone. . . .
Such, such a yellow
Is carried lightly 'way up high.
It went away I'm sure because it wished to
kiss the world good-bye.
For seven weeks I've lived in here,
Penned up inside this ghetto.
But I have found what I love here.
The dandelions call to me
And the white chestnut branches in the court.
Only I never saw another butterfly.
That butterfly was the last one.
Butterflies don't live in here,
in the ghetto.
One of the survivors Kate photographed, Steven Frank, was sent to Theresienstadt with his family, like Pavel Friedmann. Writing this post I wondered if their paths ever crossed. Yesterday I learned Steven and his brothers were three of only 93 children who survived the concentration camp. The heartbreaking figure has leaned on me since. Over 14,000 never walked out, never had the opportunity to grow up and live their lives. Their childhoods destroyed and futures stolen. Some atrocities are so horrific, it's unfathomable to contemplate the reality they lived. Yet in the face of such tragedy, survivors like Steven are determined to share their stories and educate young people. He visits schools and speaks frankly with students; he has also worked with the Forever Project who asked him 920 questions to record his survivor testimony. Long after he's gone, future generations will hear first hand in a 3D interactive format. He hopes his great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren will hear his words in the future. Click here to hear a two-hour talk with Steven filmed in Luxembourg.
When Steven addresses young people he tells them: "The 9th May 1945. That was a day we longed for, hoped for, prayed for and then suddenly there it was when the Second World War came to an end. And I give this talk in the memory of all those children who never came home."
I know we're all thinking of courageous survivors like Steven and Yvonne today, and the 7,000 prisoners of Auschwitz who were liberated 75 years ago, following 1,689 days of suffering, torture and murder.
Our thoughts are also with all those like Pavel Friedmann whose lives were taken from them at the hands of such evil.
Given the gravity of today, we'll keep the fashion details as brief as possible. The Duchess wore a selection of repeats for the ceremony, including her bespoke grey belted Catherine Walker dress.
Kate debuted the piece last March for an engagement with the Queen.
Kate accessorised with her Cassandra Goad Cavolfiore earrings.
Carried her black velvet Jimmy Choo Celeste clutch.
And her Gianvito Rossi 105 black suede pumps.
Tomorrow, the Duchess of Cambridge, Patron of Evelina London Children’s Hospital and Patron of the National Portrait Gallery, will join a creative workshop run by the National Portrait Gallery’s Hospital Programme at Evelina London.