Today, the Holocaust Educational Trust and the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women (AJEX) are taking delegations to join international commemorations to mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen. In the last of our blogs in this series, Executive Director of AJEX Jacques Weisser reflects on the importance of marking this anniversary.

Today, the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women are pleased to be taking a delegation to Germany to take part in international commemorations to mark the anniversary of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen. These commemorations are even more significant this year as we mark 70 years since the liberation of the camps and the end of the Holocaust. Just over 70 years ago, the 11th Armoured Division of the British Army entered the gates of Bergen-Belsen and were met with scenes of horror. Emaciated prisoners surrounded by piles of dead bodies, lice and disease everywhere. Of course, we will not be faced with those sights today but that does not mean to say that we too cannot be witnesses.

Just a few months ago, we marked Holocaust Memorial Day and the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau by Soviet troops. The reaction to this day was incredible; every major news outlet and broadcaster covered the commemorations taking place in Auschwitz and here in the UK. More recently, over 4,000 attended an event at Copthall Stadium on Sunday to mark Yom HaShoah, the Jewish day of remembrance for the Holocaust. That so many people are taking time out of their lives, not least those who are joining us on the visit today, to remember the Holocaust is particularly poignant given that this is likely to be the last significant anniversary year that we mark with survivors still with us.  

In visiting Bergen-Belsen and participating in commemorations there today, we are pledging to remember the victims of the camp and of the Shoah. We will also remember Britain’s role in the liberation of the camp and the efforts of the British liberators and the relief workers and medical teams that followed to bring victims back to health. The liberation of Bergen-Belsen remains an important part of Britain’s Second World War narrative and is one that we will not allow to be forgotten. I also pay tribute to the life and achievements of the survivors of Belsen and of the Shoah, many of whom settled in Britain and became an integral part of our society and communities. 

As we take time to reflect on the past we must also make sure that we continue to look to the future. The landscape of Holocaust education is changing and we must ensure that we are prepared for a world where eyewitnesses to the Shoah are no longer among us. I hope that in another 10 years’ time, and in 20 years’ time, even bigger delegations will make the journey to Bergen-Belsen to pay their respects and ensure that the horrors of the Holocaust are never forgotten.