‘We can never be complacent against hatred’

BlogUpdated: 26 January 2024Community and living

Today (27 January) is Holocaust Memorial Day. The Chair of Three Rivers District Council, Cllr Raj Khiroya, reflects on what the day means to him, and the lessons from history that the day teaches modern society.

History brings us warnings for the present day, and the future. To me, Holocaust Memorial Day (27 January) is another opportunity to listen to those warnings – to the harrowing experiences of those who lived through them - and to remind future generations of the lessons they teach. We can never be complacent against hatred.

Between 1941 and 1945 – in grievous acts which continues to shock and appall the globe, six million Jewish men, women and children were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators. Others who didn’t fit the Nazi ideal were also targeted. Nazis demonstrated hatred towards Roma and Sinti people and black people. Slavic people, such as those from Poland and Russia, were targeted simply because of where they lived. The Nazis also persecuted people they deemed to be disabled, either mentally or physically, as well as gay people. Political opponents, primarily communists, trade unionists and social democrats, as well as those whose religious beliefs conflicted with Nazi ideology, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, were also targeted.

In the years that have passed since 1945 the world has been shocked at repeated genocides – today I want to talk about some of those dark moments in human history in the hope that as a society we will always be vigilant against the powers of hatred. Genocide is not always a distant experience. Many of you will know people affected by it. I was born in Uganda, where more than 300,000 people were killed during the eight-year rule of President Amin in the 1970s.

In the same decade the radical communist political party Khmer Rouge, under their leader Pol Pot, seized power in Cambodia after years of guerrilla warfare. What followed was ruthless and extreme. Pot’s brutal regime claimed the lives of up to two million people. The Khmer Rouge tried to take Cambodia back to the Middle Ages, forcing millions of people from the cities to work on communal farms in the countryside. It is estimated that well over 2 million people were murdered during this period, from execution, disease, exhaustion and starvation.

In Rwanda in 1994 Tutsi men, women, children and babies were killed by Hutu extremists in their thousands in schools and churches. Frequently the killers were people they knew – neighbours, workmates, former friends, sometimes even relatives through marriage. In 100 days approximately 1 million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were murdered in the genocide. The genocide took place following decades of tensions between Hutus and Tutsis, and a history of persecution and discrimination against Tutsis.

A year later, in July 1995 Bosnian Serb units captured the town of Srebrenica in Bosnia-Herzegovina. In under two weeks, their forces systematically murdered more than 8,000 Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) - the worst act of mass killing on European soil since the end of the Second World War. Many were shot in the act of trying to escape. Their bodies were bulldozed into mass graves and concealed.

Even closer to the present day, in 2003 a genocide resulted in the murder of approximately 200,000 people in Darfur, a region in the west of Sudan, bordering Chad, in north-east Africa. A civil war began in the region between the sedentary population of black African farmers and the lighter-skinned nomadic Arab population. The Sudanese Government supported Arab militia – the Janjaweed – who destroyed hundreds of villages and murdered thousands of people. These atrocities have been condemned as genocide by the International Criminal Court and several governments around the world.

Looking back on these events is shocking and upsetting – as each one brings us a step closer to the present day. It reminds us that genocide is not an event of the long past, it is something that people alive today are or have experienced. People living in our own district have lost loved ones to the atrocities. We must, as a society, always be vigilant to the hatred that can and sometimes still does exist. I pray that one day in the not too distant future we really will live in a world in which such hatred does not exist at all. Today is an opportunity to learn these lessons once again, to listen to the experiences of others, to remember those whose lives have been lost, and to pray for a peaceful tomorrow.

Holocaust Memorial Day Trust (HMDT) encourages remembrance in a world scarred by genocide. Find out more about the trust here: https://www.hmd.org.uk/ 

Cllr Raj Khiroya

Chair, Three Rivers District Council

PHOTO CAPTION: (From left) Cllr Raj Khiroya, Chair of Three Rivers District Council, and Alan Moss, the Chair of Northwood United Synagogue.