Be the light in the darkness - this is the theme for 2021 Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD).

HMD is the international day on 27 January to commemorate the millions of people who were murdered in the Holocaust, under Nazi persecution and in the genocides that followed in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.  

It feels that our need for light in the current darkness is more pressing than ever. The global pandemic has taken away lives, our loved ones and is currently exploited to spread conspiracy theories, division and hatred.

In learning our lessons from the past, we need the warnings of where hostility and division can lead if left unchecked. On HMD, we hear this warning from survivors of genocide and honour those who were murdered for who they were.  

Identity-based persecution of minority Muslim communities in China and Myanmar today cast a shadow of darkness across the world. The reports of Uighur Muslims sent to reeducation camps and forced to give up their religion and culture are shocking and painful. 

The responsibility to act belongs to all of us: I urge everyone to take inspiration from those that came before us.  United, we can call out the oppression and discrimination. Together, we can be the light in the darkness.

We have done it before. Take for example, the Holocaust, during which Muslims in Albania never succumbed en masse to the hateful prejudice targeted toward the Jewish community.

We don’t speak about it enough, but the Muslim community was one of the few to protect its Jewish neighbours. Albania was home to just over 2,000 Jews in the 1940s, yet only two are known to have been deported to concentration camps during the Holocaust. 

The rest, along with countless Jewish refugees who fled Nazi oppression in other European countries, were shielded by Albanian Muslims.

These Muslims were the light in a sea of darkness. When Europe turned on its Jewish citizens, the Muslims of Albania said no. Despite facing harsh penalties from the Nazis, and possible death, families across Albania chose to put humanity first.

Refik Veseli was a 17-year-old Muslim boy who served as an apprentice to Mr Mandil, a Jewish photography shop owner. When the Nazis invaded, Refik, concerned for Mr Mandil, went to his parents to ask if they could help protect the Mandil family.

The decision to offer protection and shelter to the Mandil family was never in doubt. Indeed, Refik’s parents’ only concern was how to smuggle the Mandil family to the village in secret.  

The Veseli family provided shelter to two Jewish families during the war. At one point the Veseli's village was liberated by local partisan forces. Thinking they were safe, the Mandil family came out of hiding, and were introduced to the entire village, who had been unaware the Veseli family had been harboring them.

It is testament to the entire village that not only were the Veseli family praised for their actions, but when the Nazis retook the village and went door to door searching for partisans, the secret Jewish guests were not exposed. Had either of the Jewish families been discovered, the entire village would have faced reprisals. Yet no one talked. Despite the obvious risk, not one of the Muslim villagers were willing to hand over the Jewish families.  

We can all be the lights in the darkness. Use your voice to support communities under threat and stand in solidarity with those facing identity-based persecution today. 

On this important day, the nation will be uniting in spirit. Let’s all light the darkness together: on Holocaust Memorial Day, 27 January, light a candle and safely place it in your window at 8pm. To remember those who were murdered for who they were and to stand against hatred and prejudice today.