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Commemorations taking place in France this week

Each country will feel different and have a different national context this week for commemorating the liberation of Auschwitz 70 years ago tomorrow, and Holocaust Memorial Day more generally.

I imagine that in France and Belgium where I have lived, the national narrative about Jewish people and the Holocaust will be quite different, and possibly quite a bit more difficult, than here in the UK because of the very different national context for Jewish people. Here in the UK teaching the Holocaust is embedded in the national curriculum, statements of commitment to Holocaust education have come from our national leaders, and a national charity (the HMD Trust, www.hmd.org.uk) annually provides civic, school and faith organisations with resources with which to organise commemorations.

France have the Fondation Pour La Memoire de la Shoah and the national commemoration tomorrow will be addressed by President Francois Hollande at 9 am. At 6 pm, members of the Association of Auschwitz Survivors will light a memorial flame under the Arc de Triomphe.

“Nous sommes avec vous de tout coeur,” say we in Bristol to them in France.

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‘Night Will Fall’

And fall it did, when British troops liberated Bergen-Belsen in Germany on 15 April 1945.

This documentary of the footage that was filmed at the time, how it was suppressed, and subsequently revisited in the 1980s makes difficult viewing.

Here in Bristol, we will be seeing it at The Watershed Cinema on Sunday April 19th, as part of our series of HMD-linked events. It will be introduced by Professor Tim Cole, historian from the University of Bristol.

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Keeping the memory alive

What does it mean to ‘keep the memory alive’? Whose memories, of what, and with what medium?

Well, some clever people at the national charity Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, (www.hmd.org.uk) wrestled with these questions and what they came up with was a stroke of genius.

What they did was to pair up a Holocaust survivor with a British artist — of words, paint, clay, etc. The suvivor told his or her story and the artist created a response to that story which… will help to KEEP THE MEMORY ALIVE.

When it was announced in November 2014, this was the headline:

Stephen Fry and British artists encourage you to share the powerful stories of survivors and Keep the memory alive for Holocaust Memorial Day 2015. – See more at: http://hmd.org.uk/news/stephen-fry-launches-memory-makers-project-holocaust-memorial-day-2015#sthash.pImo6PS7.dpuf

stephenanita12

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poem ‘Welcome to Auschwitz’

The New Zealand war poet, Mike Subrizky, visited Auschwitz and wrote this moving poem about his experiences.

Bristol HMD steering group member Eva Fielding-Jackson wrote to Mike asking permission to use it and appears at the bottom of this page interpreting it in British Sign Language (BSL).

www.iwvpa.net/subritzkym/welcome-.php

WELCOME TO AUSCHWITZ

“Welcome to Auschwitz.” The survivor said.
A paradox really, he’s a Christian and his name is Stanislaus.

I step down from the bus and blink into the kaleidoscope
of a dappled morning sunlight. Nothing has changed!
It is all still there! Just like the photographs taken by the Home Army.

No bodies, but the awful presence of death,
enormous death, 10 kilometres of death.
Auschwitz 1 – A Slave Labour Camp
Auschwitz 2 – A Death Camp
Auschwitz 3 – A Chemical/Munitions Factory
Death envelopes me, engulfs me, enters my body
through my eyes, mouth and ears
whilst in the hedge-grove a song bird warbles;
Perhaps a blackbird or maybe a thrush.

I am afraid and the hyper-vigilance of the soldier returns.
I want my rifle, bayonet and combat gear.
“Jesus protect me.” I whisper

I stand beside Ada Steiner – Auschwitz No. 67082,
she is from Haifa and the blue wound on her forearm
is clearly visible. For her this is no visit,
she is returning to the nightmares of her childhood.
Stanislaus also bears the blue wound;
they nod and greet each other children who survived.
One a Jew and one a Christian.

“My dear Comrades!
I could not eliminate all lice
And Jews in one year.
But in the course of time,
And if you help me,
This end will be attained.”

So said Hans Frank,
Nazi Governor General of Poland.
Auschwitz, 10 kilometres of death;
A true monument to German Efficiency!

The gravel crunches beneath my feet
as we walk between the electric wires
and enter the gate – the sign reads
“Work Will Set You Free”
Another bloody paradox.

And all the while Stanislaus calls the numbers
eighty thousand Russians starved here.
Thirty thousand Poles; gassed mostly.
Two hundred and fifty thousand gypsies,
many thousands of political prisoners, mainly German.
And 2.5 million Jews.
“Zyklon B” at its very best.

January 27, 1945, and Liberation.
7000 starving inmates remain,
836,525 items of women’s clothing,
348,820 items of men’s clothing,
43,525 pairs of shoes, 460 artificial limbs,
7 tons of human hair and so he continues.
I see the mountain of children’s shoes,
and leave the warehouse as the tears begin to flow.

In the sunlight once more, I walk down the avenue
past the work-party gallows, towards the gas chamber
and the sole, remaining crematoria.
I hear the sound of gravel (and bone fragments) crunching underfoot,
and the warble of the songbirds nesting in the hedge-grove.
I will wash away the taste of death tonight
with a bottle of good Zubrowka vodka, and sing.
But I shall never forget this day,
or this place, or the murder that happened here. NEVER!

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My life in ten pictures

A fascinating 30 minute interview by Sherrie Eugene with HMD Steering Group member Eva Fielding-Jackson who describes how she discovered age 14 that she was deaf, as were both of her parents, who were Holocaust survivors from Hungary. She describes sleeping rough in her second home country, Israel, and growing up to find herself in a new world.

This appears on the Made in Bristol TV channel (Sky 117, Virgin 159 and Freeview channel 8) on the 23rd of January 2015 and over the weekend that follows.

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Remembering the Holocaust by attending a documentary play

I was fascinated to read about this event taking place not in Bristol but in Newcastle-under-Lyme (Staffs.)  on the 27th of January. Yizkor is the name given to the memorial service in Judaism.

A special performance of the documentary play Yizkor will take place to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz at the New Vic Theatre in Newcastle-under-Lyme.

The play was developed with support from the Imperial War Museum and Val and Ibi Ginsberg, two Holocaust survivors who worked with the New Vic Theatre, supporting our work combating racism, fascism, prejudice and discrimination. Their voices are heard throughout the play, and bear witness to the realities of the Holocaust.

Val’s and Ibi’s personal pledge as Holocaust survivors to remember those who perished, and to work towards a world free from hatred and prejudice continues to be realised beyond their deaths through the Yizkor play.

Before the play there will be a presentation by Dr Caroline Sturdy-Colls from Staffordshire University, who was featured in the BBC documentary Revealing the hidden graves of the Holocaust: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16657363

The themes of the play are as relevant today as ever they where, with the rise of extremism racism and hatred. The words of the play are made up of those written by teenagers experiencing directly the events of the Holocaust.

The play is an opportunity for us to come together and make our own individual and collective pledges, to not be bystanders in the face of hatred and prejudice, but to find our way to uphold our own humanity and that of others.

– See more at: http://hmd.org.uk/events/yizkor-70th-anniversary-liberation-auschwitz-performance#sthash.OOTrK0P6.dpuf

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Counting down to HMD 2015

There are only two weeks left and we in the Bristol HMD Steering Group are putting the finishing touches on the programme for 27th of January when we will be part of the civic commemoration taking place at the M-Shed Museum.

Come and hear stories of second generation survivors, watch an education film and reflect together with symbolic music and the lighting of one of 70 candles representing 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz.

On our home page, click on the 27th to see the full details of this event and use the calendar listing feature to see other events which will follow in the months of February, March and April.

 

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