Holocaust Memorial Day - it's good for the soul!
So yesterday my faith in humanity was restored as I helped with a Holocaust Memorial Day event at my synagogue. 180 children from a local secondary school came to hear Holocaust survivor Mala Tribich speak and then to take part in a workshop designed to help them think about the theme for this year’s HMD - ‘Don’t Stand By’ - and to learn about a young non-Jewish girl who helped save the lives of 2,500 Jewish children in the Warsaw Ghetto. For almost all of these children, many of whom are Muslim, it was their first time in a synagogue.
During the workshop the children, aged 12 and 13, had to imagine a child during World War Two and give them an identity by choosing them a name, a home life and their hopes and dreams. I facilitated a group of 10 boys during the workshop and was delighted to chat with them and learn more about their lives through their answers. The boys at my table were mainly Asian along with one Romanian and one white English. What a lovely bunch of kids! One wanted to be an inventor, another a writer “in the fantasy genre” – and he had wonderful vocabulary so I have no doubt he would be able to achieve his hopes and dreams. All of them loved art, some loved English. All were interested by what they had learnt.
At the end of the afternoon each child was given a postcard to write a message to Mala Tribich after hearing her stories about life in the ghetto, Ravensbrück and Bergen Belsen. All of the messages were touching and sweet. I came out of the session with a spring in my step and a smile on my face.
As part of the session I was asked to write and deliver an introduction to this year’s theme which appeared to go down well and so I have reproduced it below. Holocaust Memorial Day is on 27 January and I would urge anyone who has the opportunity to help at an event like this one to do so, it is really important for the children but it’s also good for the soul.
Holocaust Memorial Day 2016 – Introduction
The theme for this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day is ‘Don’t Stand By’.
Have you seen any of those videos on YouTube showing innocent people being racially attacked on the bus or the tube? At first these type of videos used to go viral as people watched and shared them – they made horrifying and yet compelling viewing. Nowadays there are so many videos of this type that it almost seems people are not that interested any more. Maybe one would only catch your attention if the attack happened near to home or perhaps you know someone who knows someone who was there. Maybe some of you have witnessed a racial attack or even been the victim of one?
Let’s think about this. If you were on the bus and someone was being racially abused – what would you do? Would you try to help – or would you turn up the volume on your earphones and pretend that you didn’t know what was going on? Nobody is suggesting that you put yourselves in danger but you could alert the bus driver or call the police or do something..... but not just stand by.
‘Don’t Stand By’. The Holocaust and other genocides were able to happen because the local people stood by silently as they took place, whether it was because they were afraid to speak out and do something - or perhaps they just didn’t care.
My mother was six years old toward the end of the World War Two and forced to live in an orphanage in a small village just outside Paris. Her parents had both been murdered at Auschwitz and she was left with her twin sister and brother. The French villagers knew about the orphanage and that all of the children were being held there as Nazi prisoners. Some of the local people even worked at the orphanage as monitors and kitchen staff but no-one tried to help the children leave.
At six o’clock in the morning on 22nd July 1944 German soldiers came to the orphanage and arrested all of the children. They took them to an internment camp at Drancy in Paris from where the trains left directly for Auschwitz. Nine days later convoy no. 77 left Drancy – it was just weeks before the allied soldiers liberated France from the Germans. On board the convoy were 327 children all of whom had just been arrested from the Jewish orphanages in and around Paris. Among those children were my mother’s brother Nathan, aged 12, and her twin sister Annette, aged 6. My mother was not with them. She had measles and was in the hospital. The Nazis went to the hospital to arrest her but the doctors hid her and she survived. Those doctors didn’t just stand by and they saved my mother’s life. All of the other children on convoy 77 were sent to their deaths in the gas chambers as soon as they got off the train at Auschwitz.
Many of the people of France just stood by and did nothing to help the Jewish people during World War 2 and that is how over 75,000 French Jewish men, women and children came to be murdered in the Holocaust. And then there were the other French people who did help, like the doctors who saved my mother’s life.
I hope this helps to show you what a difference it can make if you DON’T STAND BY. Thank you.