“Holocaust Memorial Day is vital – in my opinion – to not only remember the past, but learn for the future. It will enable us, I hope, to celebrate diversity and allow individuals to be the people they want to be.”

Youth Champion Josh Whatsize with survivor Zigi Shipper

Youth Champion Josh Whatsize with survivor Zigi Shipper

There is a reason some days are known internationally. Without reminders, most of us would forget the significant events of the past. The expression, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” is not to be overlooked, especially when history has proven it to be true time-and-time again. No matter how brutal the truth may be, one can never go back and undo what has already been.

“Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) is important globally because hatred and discrimination happen across the world,” said Josh Whatsize, national youth ambassador for the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust in the United Kingdom.

“We have seen it with the Holocaust (The Shoah) in Europe – as well as genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur – and we now see such hatred in countries such as Russia [and its campaigns] against LGBT’s, as well as Uganda and other African countries.”

HMD takes place on 27 January each year. It marks the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp. It is a time to pause, to remember and commemorate the millions of people who were murdered or whose lives were changed beyond recognition during the Holocaust, Nazi Persecution or in subsequent genocides across the globe.

Josh reiterates that HMD is important because people still cannot accept that everyone is different. If people acknowledge and remember the past, he says, then hopefully they will have some way of combating the ugliness that has filled the world for so long.

Youth Ambassador Josh Whatsize at the parliamentary launch of HMDT's theme "Don't Stand By"

Youth Ambassador Josh Whatsize at the parliamentary launch of HMDT’s theme “Don’t Stand By”

Currently in his final year at Kingston University studying drama and international relations, Josh has been the national youth ambassador for the HMD Trust since 2010. For him, it all started when he was moved during a visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

“I heard many personal accounts on my visit and was keen to learn more about the Holocaust.”

“Whilst researching, I learned about the many other genocides and crimes against humanity that had occurred since, and I became angered by what I was reading and shocked to learn that genocides still occur in the modern world, in places like Darfur,” Josh said.

He spent months delivering workshops to over 1,500 young people in colleges and schools, many of whom knew nothing about the Holocaust before his visit.

“After spending a few months travelling the world and volunteering in Kenya, I became involved in the HMD Trust, and then in the preparations for setting up the Youth Champion Programe.”

The Youth Champion Programme is designed for 14 to 24-year-olds who are keen to learn about the Holocaust and subsequent genocides. The programme’s young participants are also encouraged to put on their own HMD activities.

“Six years later, I’m still helping run and lead the programme by traveling the country and delivering workshops to new Youth Champions, as well as chairing the Youth Board,” Josh said.

“Over the years, I have become incredibly passionate about the Holocaust as well as human rights, and in particular, Holocaust education.”

As well as being the national youth ambassador for the HMD Trust, Josh is currently the regional ambassador for London for the Holocaust Educational Trust. He works with the trust to help support other ambassadors in the region, in conjunction with their lessons from Auschwitz Programme.

“Alongside the work I do with the two trusts, I am keen to develop a career as a director and write and direct numerous productions whilst at university, in London and around the country,” he said.

“My aim is to go into directing – I have a particular passion for verbatim and political theatre – and use theatre to highlight human right violations [… I want to] inform another type of audience about events that are occurring, but are not receiving the right media attention.”

Whatsize with fellow Youth Champion, Jack Welch

Josh with fellow Youth Champion, Jack Welch

He adds that he feels that HMD has had a significant impact on Britain as more people, especially young people, are now aware of the Holocaust and have a better, deeper understanding of it and subsequent genocides.

“We have seen a high rise in activities taking place in local communities, [each] an attempt to remember the individuals killed during such acts of hatred.

“HMD is vital, in my opinion, not only to remember the past, but learn for the future. It will enable us, I hope, to celebrate diversity and allow individuals to be the people they want to be.”

It is a time when people seek to learn the lessons of the past and recognise that genocide does not just take place on its own — it is a steady process which can begin if discrimination, racism and hatred are not checked and prevented, Josh adds.

“We’re fortunate here in the United Kingdom; we are not at risk of genocide.”

“However, discrimination has not ended, nor has the use of the language of hatred or exclusion. There is still much to do to create a safer future and HMD is an opportunity to start this process.”

HMD activity organisers bring together the diverse strands of their communities to commemorate the day in their neighbourhoods. To Josh this is a real demonstration of how the lessons of the past can inform people’s lives today and ensure everyone works together to create a safer, better future.

Josh said: “Why I helped set it up was purely down to a passion for educating young people and enabling them to have the knowledge and resources to tell other generations what happened.”

Whatsize (right) with Christopher Eccleston at last year's 70th anniversary event

Josh (right) with Christopher Eccleston at last year’s 70th anniversary event

“It is my way, no matter how small, to try and limit and stop the hatred that fills the society today, in the hope that we can live a safer and better future.”

While he has been given many opportunities to attend events where survivors of the Holocaust and subsequent genocides are in attendance, Josh says it is always an honour to sit and talk with them.

“All [of them] have a passion for telling their story, especially to young people and young adults,” he says.

“They are aware that soon their stories will need to be told by others and they are relying on future generations to relay their stories, and most importantly, learn from their experiences.”

For more information on how to get involved, email Josh Whatsize at youth.champion@hmd.org.uk.