Remembering the lessons of history

Jewish star with barbed wire and seven candles, International Holocaust Remembrance Day poster, Janu

The theme for Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) 2021 is 'be the light in the darkness'. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

‘Those who forget history, are condemned to repeat it”

I first came across this quote by George Santayna, more than 23 years ago.

It was stuck up on the door of our history classroom; carefully laminated, boldly displayed in black and white - it was incredibly powerful.

A simple sign, with a clear message, it struck a chord in me as a teenager, and it resonates with me all these years later.

Each year, on January 27, the world comes together to remember human atrocities throughout history. 

Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) was founded almost 20 years ago. Its purpose was to commemorate and educate everyone about the Holocaust and all the victims of Nazi persecution, but also to include and raise awareness of subsequent recognised genocides.

The theme for Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) 2021 is 'be the light in the darkness'.

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It encourages everyone to reflect on the depths humanity can sink to, but also the ways individuals and communities resisted that darkness to ‘be the light’ before, during and after genocide.

'Be the light in the darkness' is an affirmation and a call to action for everyone marking HMD.

This theme asks us to consider different kinds of ‘darkness’, for example, identity-based persecution, misinformation, denial of justice; and different ways of ‘being the light’, for example, resistance, acts of solidarity, rescue and illuminating mistruths.

Increasing levels of denial, division and misinformation in today’s world mean we must remain vigilant against hatred and identity-based hostility.

Rapid technological developments, turbulent political climate, and world events beyond our control can leave us feeling helpless and insignificant.

The unprecedented times through which we are living currently are showing the very best of which humanity is capable but also - in some of the abuse and conspiracy theories being spread on social media - the much darker side of our world as well.

We can all stand in solidarity. We can choose to 'be the light in the darkness' in a variety of ways and places – at home, in public, and online.

Times are tough, there’s no other way to describe it. Although we cling onto hope, during these dark, cold months, it seems for many, that any light is flickering lightly, instead of beaming brightly.

It would be very easy to let darkness win. As the world continues to cause so much pain, we could easily let hate overcome. We are all finding life difficult that’s a given.

Yet, if history has taught us anything, it is that light must always win.

When life gets tough, we look to blame someone or something – maybe that’s human nature.

Scrolling through social media, flicking on the news channels or reading through news articles, everyone has an opinion on who to blame, but let’s be careful we don’t fall into the trap of the scapegoat rhetoric.

Holocaust Memorial Day reminds us of the worst aspects of humanity – a reality, really not that long ago, one that is still real for many now.

Remembering history enables us to develop a better understanding of the world in which we live. And if we heed Santayana's warning, then remembering history – and learning important lessons from it – should help us to avoid previous mistakes and prevent previous misdeeds from happening again. 

Much has been written about the importance of remembering the lessons of history.

Surely we should be able to recall the mistakes that led us to fascism, or to many of the other deplorable actions of our collective and individual pasts, so that we can use the past to avoid repeating previous errors in politics, social policy, and healthcare.

Last week saw the inauguration of Joe Biden - with that a new chapter begins. As well as remembering history, we must take it upon ourselves to look forwards. 

“For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. if only we’re brave enough to be it.”