It’s Holocaust Memorial Day this coming Wednesday, the day set aside to preserve the memory of those who were murdered in the Holocaust – the six million Jews and five million others: gypsies, the disabled, homosexuals and political opponents.

And many of us also use the day to remember other victims of genocides, those that have happened since the Second World War, in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur. And those that are happening in the Middle East today.

Because sadly, horrifyingly, we now know that genocide, is not just a one-off, an aberration of the times and a specific political philosophy. It is all too common.

Genocide is not murder committed on a grand scale; neither is it the natural consequence of war. It is the conscious effort by one group of people to eliminate another.

It does not apply just to killing an enemy’s armed forces or its male population – it is concerned with killing everyone in the victim group: male and female, old and young, strong and weak.

All done with the expressed purpose of preventing that group from existing, both at that time and in the future.

I’ve often wondered what I would have done if I had been an ordinary German watching the rise of Nazism and seeing its consequences to the lives of Jewish neighbours or work colleagues.

Would I have been able to speak up, would I have helped my neighbours to hide or leave the country, would I have placed myself against the might of the state and risked my own job, or even my life and the lives of my children?

The southwest corner of France, between the Pyrenees and the Atlantic, was occupied by the German army during the war.

There were tanks in the street and soldiers billeted among the local population.

I met a woman recently who told me of her life in the small Basque hill town of Mauleon, mostly known nowadays for the production of espadrilles.

In 1941, Fanny was six and the third child in a large family, living in a thin, four-storey house in the centre of the town. One day she asked her much-loved oldest brother, aged 10, why there were people living in their roof.

And much to her shock and chagrin her brother slapped her face. He hadn’t ever hit her before.

“Never” he hissed, “never, ever mention that again. We don’t know about that.” So she didn’t.

Much later, after the occupation was over, she learned that her parents had taken in a local Jewish family and kept them hidden until it was safe for them to emerge.

Would I have done that?

Do I have the courage to do what I believed to be morally and ethically right in spite of the consequences?

Luckily, I’ve never had to find out, but there are choices that we make today that apply the same principle at a far less dangerous level.

What do we do if we hear racist abuse in the street aimed at a woman wearing a burka?

How do we react when we see a group of schoolchildren bullying one particular child, especially if that child is from a different ethnic group or is disabled?

Do we intervene if we see someone being mugged in the street?

Holocaust Memorial Day prompts us to act against all forms of injustice, against overt racism, against verbal or physical abuse directed at specific people.

Remembering on its own is not enough. For me, Holocaust Memorial Day should lead to action.