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Holocaust Memorial Day
27th January 2023

Ordinary People - Holocaust Memorial Day 2023.

Genocide is facilitated by ordinary people. Ordinary people turn a blind eye, believe propaganda, and join murderous regimes. Those who are persecuted, oppressed, and murdered in genocide are not persecuted because of crimes they have committed – they are persecuted simply because they are ordinary people who belong to a particular group (e.g. Roma, Jewish community, Tutsi).

Ordinary people were involved in all aspects of the Holocaust, Nazi persecution of other groups, and in the genocides that took place in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. Ordinary people were perpetrators, bystanders, rescuers, witnesses – and ordinary people were victims.

In every genocide, those targeted faced limited choices – ‘choiceless choices’ (Lawrence Langer) but in every genocide the perpetrators have choices, ordinary people have choices.

Sometimes, these choices were limited too; sometimes they had to make life-threatening decisions. Ordinary people were the ones who made brave decisions to rescue, to hide or stand up. They also made decisions to ignore what was going on around them, to be bystanders, to allow the genocide to continue.

There are also extraordinary people in every genocide, remarkable and unusual people, who went to extreme lengths to help, to rescue, to save, and in every genocide, there were extraordinary people, who went to extreme depths to cause harm, to persecute, to murder.

We are all ordinary people today who can be extraordinary in our actions. We can all make decisions to challenge prejudice, stand up to hatred, to speak out against identity-based persecution, to shop responsibly. Ordinary people are also the ones who drive Holocaust Memorial Day, who lead on community commemorations, who support and encourage everyone around them to take part in remembrance and education projects.

At Oakham Castle, we have some information on display that detail peoples’ ordinary lives, HMDT’s life stories and poetry written by survivors, generating insightful comments about ethics and morality.  We encourage you to reflect and write your thoughts, messages or even your own poem on a tag. Your message will then be placed on our Horseshoe in front of Oakham the Great Hall of Oakham Castle.

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‘You didn’t think about yesterday, and tomorrow may not happen, it was only today that you had to cope with and you got through it as best you could. ’


Iby Knill, survivor of the Holocaust

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