The writings of Holocaust survivor and writer Primo Levi often provide a sense of perspective when commemorating the tragedy that killed six mllion Jews, along with other groups including Poles, black people, gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses and homosexuals.
As this year’s theme was “Keeping the Memory Alive”, Levi’s words outline what Mindu Hornick, who survived Auschwitz describes as “everyone’s duty to share the story”.
Now 85 years old, she spoke movingly at a ceremony marking 70 years since the liberation of the Nazi death camp at Birmingham Town Hall on Sunday.
Led by Lord Mayor of Birmingham Shafique Shah, the event saw faith leaders, poets, musicians and community members gather together to remember, but also pledge to tackle discrimination today.
“I take it as one of the reasons for my survival that I must share my story. It therefore becomes everyone’s duty to share the story.”, Mindu Hornick.
Faced with overwhelming numbers of victims, it can be difficult to comprehend the scale of destruction in the Holocaust, or the Bosnian genocide which took place in Srebrenica 20 years ago. Bodies are still being recovered there today.
Rabbi Doctor Margaret Jacobi, of Birmingham Progressive Synagogue says “each one should be thought of as a life.” Each body belongs to someone’s mother, father, son or daughter.
Understanding the horrors of the past can still be difficult for those who Levi calls upon: “you who live safe, in your warm houses”.
To a young generation, the killing of over 8,000 Bosnians in 1995, or the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in India, may be easier to relate to than the relentless terror machine that was the Nazi regime.
Yet all of them remain as evidence of what can happen when racism and discrimination are left unchecked.
Speaking after the service, Birmingham City Council Chief Executive Mark Rogers says it is important for everyone to listen to these stories in order to connect with people from different communities. Especially so in Birmingham, a city of great diversity.
Mindu Hornick experienced Auschwitz and a labour camp where she worked as a seamstress in terrible conditions, which included being fed rations mixed with chemicals.
After the war, she was welcomed in Birmingham where she had family living. Having been liberated 70 years ago, the experience has been engraved in her heart since. But speaking about it has not always been simple. “We did not want to talk. Publishers were not interested.”
Today, there is a thriving culture of remembrance, helped by the popularity of Anne Frank’s diary. This is something which survivors like Mindu and Lejla Solakovic, who was just a child in Bosnia two decades ago, are grateful for. Though sharing their memories may be painful, it is keeping it alive that matters.