Why Holocaust Memorial Day is particularly important this year - Dr Alan Billings

January 27 is the annual Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD). The date is significant. It marks the day the concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated and the full horror of what had happened in Nazi Germany began to be fully revealed and understood.

It is particularly important that the day is kept this year in the light of all that is happening in the Middle East and the antisemitism that this has given rise to across the world.

We have been fortunate in South Yorkshire so far. While there have been antisemitic incidents since October 7, they have been few in number.

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This is no doubt in part because the Jewish community here is quite small. It is also because relationships between different religious/community groups are, on the whole, good and well maintained.

Protest for peace in Palestine outside Sheffield City Hall on October 14. PIC: Simon HulmeProtest for peace in Palestine outside Sheffield City Hall on October 14. PIC: Simon Hulme
Protest for peace in Palestine outside Sheffield City Hall on October 14. PIC: Simon Hulme

And the police have made it very clear that the law will be enforced if anyone chants antisemitic slogans or carries banners or flags supporting proscribed organisations in any of the pro-Palestinian rallies or marches.

Many years ago, when I was part of an academic group studying in Israel and on the West Bank, I visited Yad Vashem, the holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. Seeing the stacks of day to day objects – like pairs of shoes and glasses – that had been taken off the men, women and little children who passed through the death camps, was a heart-aching and unforgettable experience. Yet without occasions of remembrance, such as HMD, we do forget – as individuals and collectively.

As a child of World War II, I resented the fact that my father was in the armed services fighting in North Africa and away from home. He was not demobilised until 1947. He never spoke about the war, save to say that the Nazis and their doctrines about race had to be defeated.

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They were defeated, which meant that this country was never invaded, I was not raised by the state as a little Nazi, and I now have a daughter-in-law who is Jewish. I also have three grandchildren who, had the war been lost and had they been born at all, would not have been allowed to survive to adulthood.

But if two states, Palestinian and Israeli, living side by side, is the solution to the conflict in that part of the world, the tragedy for the Palestinians must be Hamas and for Israel the present Prime Minister, since neither wants it. And what may be a faraway dispute will continue to play out on the streets of South Yorkshire.

It’s also that time of year when I have to set out with the chief constable the policing budget for the next financial year – April 2024-March 2025 – and set the precept (the amount of council tax to be levied for policing services ). This is the last time I shall do this.

In preparation for that, I have to hold a public consultat ion. This is a legal requirement and I have to have regard to what people say. We started this in November last year and closed it earlier this month. The results are very encouraging and quite different from some previous years. There have been times in the past when people have indicated that they were not happy at paying more for policing: they were struggling financially and they were not convinced that the police were doing a good enough job. This year there is strong support for the police and a much bigger response.

A shortened version of the Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire’s latest blog post.

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