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Four interesting facts about remembering the Holocaust and its importance to Jews

There is significant consensus among British and European Jews that remembrance of the Holocaust is a vitally important part of their Jewish identities. Still, their levels of participation in Holocaust memorial events don’t always reflect this

Dr Keith Kahn-Harris

Yom HaShoah – the day chosen by Israel to commemorate the Holocaust – is always a sombre occasion in Israel, and amidst the anxiety of wartime, it is particularly charged this year. But how the day will resonate among Jews in the United Kingdom and other Diaspora countries is less clear. Yom HaShoah is not universally marked in Diaspora synagogues and communal organisations, not least because International Holocaust Memorial Day (the more universal day to remember the victims of the Holocaust that is held every year in the UK and across the world on 27th January), somewhat complicates the process of Jewish Holocaust remembrance. In some cases, Holocaust remembrance also occurs at other times of the year, including on Tisha b’Av and Yom Kippur.  

So, how do Jews in the UK and Europe remember the Holocaust? JPR’s research tells us the following:

Remembering the Holocaust is the dimension of Jewishness that Jews in the UK and across Europe are most likely to say is an important part of their Jewish identity.

JPR’s 2022 report “The Jewish identities of European Jews: What, why and how?”, based on a survey of over 16,000 Jews in twelve European countries, found that a total of 78% of Jews in the countries surveyed saw ‘remembering the Holocaust’ as ‘very important’ to their Jewish identities. Indeed, of all the aspects of Jewish identity that were offered in the study, ‘remembering the Holocaust’ was mentioned more than any other possible answer, with ‘combating antisemitism’ coming in second place, where 73% of all respondents said it was ‘very important’ to them. These figures varied only modestly by country, age and a range of other indicators, including whether respondents were intermarried or not. As a comparison, only 33% of all European Jews mentioned ‘believing in God’ as ‘very important’ in that landmark survey.

In the UK, remembering the Holocaust has become more important to Jews over the past decade

JPR’s 2023 report on Jews in the UK today found that 71% of British Jews consider remembering the Holocaust to be ‘very important’ to their Jewish identity – as with the European survey, a higher percentage than for any other aspect of Jewish identity. Interestingly, this percentage has increased significantly since the last time JPR ran this question in 2013, when the equivalent proportion was just 60%. The 2023 survey also found that women are more likely than men to see remembrance of the Holocaust as very important to them (76% compared to 66%); the percentage also increases with age.

While there is a consensus among British Jews that Holocaust remembrance is very important to them, participation in memorial events is more variable.

As mentioned previously, there are two ‘official’ days of Holocaust remembrance: International Holocaust Memorial Day (established by the United Nations to occur annually on 27th January to mark the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp), and Yom HaShoah (the annual memorial day established by the State of Israel, that always occurs a week after the end of Passover and a week before Israel’s independence day). JPR’s National Jewish Identity Survey found that 42% of British Jews marked Yom HaShoah, notably fewer than the 54% who mark International Holocaust Memorial Day. Interestingly, while the most religiously observant Jews are less likely than others to see remembering the Holocaust as an essential part of their Jewish identity (56% compared to 72% of the least religious), members of orthodox (but not haredi) denominations are more likely than progressive or secular Jews to attend an event marking Yom HaShoah or International Holocaust Memorial Day.

Research on Holocaust memorialisation is increasingly popular, while other aspects of Jewish life are being left behind

In addition to its own reports, the Institute for Jewish Policy Research created and runs the European Jewish Research Archive (EJRA), a free-to-use and comprehensive repository of all social research conducted about European Jews since 1990. EJRA holds over 4,000 research items from over fifty European countries in thirty languages, covering a wide range of aspects of Jewish life. In our 2023 analysis of the archive’s holdings undertaken for the European Commission as part of the EU strategy on combating antisemitism and fostering Jewish life, we found that the proportion of items in the archive that look at Holocaust memorialisation has nearly doubled over time, from 9% of all items published between 1990 and 1999, to 16% of items published since 2010. At the same time, there is a comparative lack of focus on crucial issues about how Jews live their lives today, such as education, culture, Jewish identity and demography.

Remembering the Holocaust is an essential part of ‘why’ people self-identify as Jews, and the data suggest that the importance of this aspect of Judaism has grown in recent years, both in people’s everyday Jewish lives and in Jewish community research. As we move further away in time from the Holocaust, and as the numbers of survivors inevitably declines, it seems that ‘remembering the Holocaust’ is becoming increasingly important to Jews everywhere. As understandable as this is, it is important to ensure that other vital aspects of Jewishness aren’t left behind, both in terms of how Jews understand their Jewish identities and what issues are focused on in contemporary Jewish life.

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Dr Keith Kahn-Harris

Senior Research Fellow and Project Director of the European Jewish Research Archive

Dr Keith Kahn-Harris

Senior Research Fellow and Project Director of the European Jewish Research Archive

Keith Kahn-Harris has been Project Director of the European Jewish Research Archive since its inception in 2014, managing the collection process and analysing its holdings...

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