One of the many Holocaust Memorial Day commemorations this year took place at The Potteries Museum in Hanley, Stoke on Trent. It was a joint venture between Staffordshire University and Stoke on Trent City Council which I was asked to MC for. Professor Michael Gunn, Vice Chancellor of Staffordshire University and The Right Worshipful the Lord Mayor of Stoke-on-Trent Cllr Sheila Pitt both began proceeding by outlining why it was important to remember HMD and the special links we hold with Lidice.
This years theme for Holocaust Memorial Day was Journeys. From the moment of conception to the final moment we are laid to rest – we are on a journey. Most are happy joyous events – looked forward to with eager anticipation. However the experience of those affected by the Holocaust and subsequent genocides has been characterised by forced journeys. Many of these ended in death: persecutors forcibly moving huge numbers of people – in trains, cattle trucks and on death marches, from homes in villages and towns and across countries. Some journeys ended in survival: when those persecuted made journeys to escape, some in disguise, some into hiding. There are journeys too, made after liberation: to life in new countries, or simply returning home to the places where neighbours may have contributed to the persecution. This afternoon at the Potteries Museum in Hanley, we heard from a number of people telling stories about these journeys through photography, art and poetry.
Our first presentation was from Fee Wood from the National Union of Students. Her presentation – Journey of Education and Understanding was a presentation of images taken when she visited Auschwitz and Birkenau. Many more harrowing images were on display in the foyer for people to see later.
Young people from Sir Stanley Matthews Ormiston Academy spoke next. They read out excerpts of various journeys and poems, including pieces from The Diary of Anne Frank and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.
The final presentation was by Nicola Winstanley from Dashline who talked about an art project called Unearthed. This is a new public artwork that references the relationship between Stoke-on-Trent and the Czech village of Lidice that was totally destroyed by the Nazis in 1942. The project explores the themes of peace and camaraderie that still spans the two nations and revives the spirit of international solidarity that achieved so much.
After the formal presentations were done, readings from the Christian and Muslim traditions were read out. Reverend Mick Williams, Senior Chaplain at Staffordshire University read out the story of the good samaritan. I followed by reading the following verse from the Quran and prayers:
In the name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful
Praise be to God, Lord of the Worlds,
The Beneficent, the Merciful.
Owner of the Day of Judgment,
You (alone) we worship; You (alone) we ask for help.
Guide us on the straight path,
The path of those whom you have favoured;
Not (the path) of those who earn your anger nor of those who go astray. (Al-Fatiha)
Oh, Lord! Make easy for us our situations with rest for our hearts and our bodies; and peace and well-being in our spiritual and worldly lives and be to us our Companion in our journey and the Guardian of our family.
Our Lord, give us good in this life, and in the Hereafter, and protect us from the Hellfire.
“Our Lord, do not impose blame upon us if we have forgotten or erred. Our Lord, and lay not upon us a burden like that which You laid upon those who have passed away before us. Our Lord, and burden us not with that which we have no ability to bear.
Our Lord! cover (us) with Thy Forgiveness – me, my parents, and (all) Believers, on the Day that the Reckoning will be established!”
“Our Lord hear our prayers”
Martin Morris, President of the Stoke on Trent and North Staffordshire Hebrew community then recited the Kaddish, the Hebrew prayer recited for the departed:
Glorified and sanctified be God’s great name throughout the world which He has created according to His will. May He establish His kingdom in your lifetime and during your days, and within the life of the entire House of Israel, speedily and soon; and say, Amen.
May His great name be blessed forever and to all eternity.
Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, extolled and honored, adored and lauded be the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, beyond all the blessings and hymns, praises and consolations that are ever spoken in the world; and say, Amen.
May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us
and for all Israel; and say, Amen.
He who creates peace in His celestial heights, may He create peace for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen.
Staffordshire University has been commemorating HMD since 2001. I actually joined the University in November 2000 although I’m currently on secondment. Having been involved in most of the commemorations since 2001, when I was asked to come back for this years event – well – saying no wasn’t even an option. Having said that the reality is that every year I find it more difficult than the last. Maybe that’s because I’m getting old. As we get older we do find it harder to comprehend how human beings can inflict so much pain – so much suffering on their fellow human beings because of perceived differences based not just on religion or race but so many other things. 27th January is the date we remember the millions killed in the Holocaust between 1941-1945 and in subsequent genocides in Cambodia 1975-1979, Rwanda 1994, Bosnia 1992-1995 and Darfur ongoing since 2003. If only that’s where the list ended. You and I know that in parts of the world today this persecution continues – millions are displaced, murdered and maimed. Families are torn apart – children left homeless and destitute. “all it takes for evil to prosper is for good men to do nothing”. Where have all the good men and women gone? Eli Wiesel, a holocaust survivor said “we must always take sides because neutrality helps the oppressor never the victim”. Some of you may have seen the report in last week telegraph that a study by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust found that over half of British over 16 year olds could not name a single act of genocide after the holocaust. “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it”. It is vitally important that we remember and we continue to remember and we continue to educate our younger generations in the destruction that is caused when hate goes unchecked. Let’s work together and ensure others do so too. So I would like you to think of one think you are going to do to support the oppressed in the world today. What’s it going to be?