Liam Rankin has been a History teacher for fi ve years, mostly teaching the Holocaust at BGE level. He is currently a History and Humanities teacher at Inverurie Academy. Liam is undertaking EIS-funded study on the University of the West of Scotland’s online course for teachers on Citizenship and Holocaust Education, and in this article, he refl ects on the importance of marking Holocaust Memorial Day.

All across the country events were held on Thursday 27th January to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust as part of Holocaust Memorial Day. International HMD is held yearly on the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest and most infamous Nazi extermination and concentration camp. On the day, people remember the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust as well as other groups persecuted by the Nazis between 1933 – 1945. The event also recognises the more recent victims of genocide in Darfur, Rwanda, Cambodia, and Bosnia.

Marking Holocaust Memorial Day in schools is important for students’ historical understanding of the crimes of the past but it is also a key event which helps students comprehend modern day persecution and discrimination. Taking an active role in Holocaust memorial events allows students to better understand their role as engaged citizens because students are encouraged to reflect on and discuss how racism and discrimination can be challenged in contemporary society. Importantly, students feel empowered by actively doing something to challenge hate and prejudice and are given the opportunity to educate others.

In previous years organisations like St. Mungo’s Museum of Religious Life and Art in Glasgow have teamed up with local schools to commemorate the Holocaust. This has involved secondary students delivering workshops on the importance of Holocaust Memorial Day to primary school students and members of the community. Their workshops have highlighted the interdisciplinary nature of Holocaust Memorial Day events because students were able to run a variety of workshops on activities like making friendship bracelets and Drama.

In a time when students are often exposed to online hate and negativity, events like this are important. The nature of online social platforms which allow for anonymity has meant young people are increasingly exposed to online hate. There has also been a rise in antisemitic hate speech online. In a recent study the charity Hope Not Hate discovered that a range of antisemitic content was being distributed across all nine mainstream social media platforms. Therefore, HMD events which bring a diverse group of young people together are important for breaking down barriers and forging stronger community ties.

Although the COVID pandemic and current mitigations made this year’s Memorial Day slightly different, students still found creative ways to educate and inform others. For example, this year’s service to mark HMD at the Memorial Gardens in Bonnybridge Toll, organised by the Provost of Falkirk, included readings from local secondary school pupils. Furthermore, at my school, Inverurie Academy, senior pupils put together an online presentation about Holocaust Memorial Day to be delivered to BGE pupils at the school.

This presentation is part of the students’ ‘Next Steps’ project after attending the ‘Lessons from Auschwitz’ seminars run by the Holocaust Educational Trust. Students learned about the horrors of the Auschwitz extermination camp from survivor testimonies and were given an online tour of the camps. Feedback from students was that it was a worthy experience, and they are now eager to ensure something like this never happens again by educating others about the dangers of stereotyping and prejudice.

Students using this experience to share their learning with the rest of the school plays a vital role in helping pupils become active citizens. In the process of developing school projects about HMD, students are reflecting on their own society and experience, and are educating pupils about why the events of the Holocaust are still relevant. Furthermore, when students take an active role in developing memorial events, they become more aware of the positive role they have in their local community. Therefore, the experience of these events can encourage students to take on a greater role in local organisations, societies and events which are helping to develop greater political participation amongst young people.

More information about Holocaust Memorial Day events and educational resources can be found on the HMD and HET websites: