A HUSH fell over the Cenotaph as a crowd gathered to remember the millions of victims killed in genocides and take a stand against prejudice and hatred.

Matt Holland led a short ceremony in front of a crowd of schoolchildren, local politicians and respectful passers by before the mayor and parish council representatives laid wreaths.

Relatives of Holocaust survivors told their stories and religious figures read touching extracts from Holocaust literature during a gathering at the nearby Friends Meeting House on Eastcott Hill afterwards.

Matt said: “Standing together is the best thing to do if genocidal regimes are to be resisted because they split apart societies and fragment people using prejudice and hatred.

“We need to be aware of persecution, discrimination and injustice in our communities and speak out against it, stop division and prevent the spread of hostility and ‘us and them’ propaganda.”

“Give us the same courage and determination as the survivors who rebuilt their lives and use compassion, kindness and understanding to make this world a better place for everyone.”

Rod Bluh spoke at the Friends Meeting House about his life-changing trip to Belarus, where his grandmother died at a lesser-known death prison while Germany fought Russia.

He said: “I was not prepared for the stories. They suffered on an unimaginable scale. Germany bulldozed through the country, destroying entire villages. A population of thousands dropped to just 200 survivors who had tunnelled out to freedom.

“When I came back home, antisemitism was all over the news, which made it so much harder to deal with.

“I don’t think people are more prejudiced than before but they feel like they have a licence to express it more now – and that’s dangerous. We have not learned a lot if we allow this to continue.

“You can’t ignore it because otherwise things can go wrong again.”

A Ugandan man called Moses spoke about his experiences growing up next door to Rwanda while extremist Hutus committed genocide against the Tutsis, which included members of his extended family.

He said: “We must be messengers of peace. We must never again allow such evil, atrocious backwards events to occur in our lifetimes or our children and grandchildren’s lifetimes.

“We have to see everyone as equal. Hatred and racism is learned – we must not teach it to our children.”

So many people wanted to share their thoughts, anecdotes and pleas for understanding and kindness that the Eastcott Hill gathering ran for twice as long as planned. Guests continued their discussions over tea and refreshments.

This Holocaust Remembrance Day marks 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz and other concentration camps, as well as coinciding with the 75th anniversary of VE Day.

All 16 Year 6 pupils from Chiseldon Primary School attended the Cenotaph ceremony.

Ben said: “I think it’s important that we remember the Holocaust and all the people who died and celebrate people who are different to us.”

Deputy head Nick Hatcliffe said: “It’s really important to learn from the past and not make the same mistakes.”

Mayor Kevin Parry said: “It was extremely moving, we can never forget what happened. To see people of all ages there was great, it will help keep the victims’ memories alive.

"The sheer scale of the Holocaust is hard to comprehend, even when you visit the camps.”