Pupils speak at Holocaust Memorial

As part of our role as a Holocaust Beacon School, we were delighted to be invited to Redditch and Bromsgrove’s Holocaust Memorial Day event. This yearly event is to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) (27 January) which is a national commemoration day dedicated to the remembrance of those who suffered in The Holocaust, under Nazi Persecution, and in subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. It was first held in January 2001 and has been on the same date every year since. The chosen date is the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp by the Soviet Union in 1945, the date also chosen for the International Holocaust Remembrance Day and some other national Holocaust Memorial Days.

The day began with a procession through Redditch Town Centre to remember those who suffered under persecution and genocides. The procession paused briefly at the Holocaust Memorial with poems and a short introduction from Sokphal Din, a Cambodian genocide survivor. We then made our way back to the Redditch Town Hall to begin the official event. There were performances from Redditch Community Gospel Choir, Matchborough First School Choir, Kerala Cultural Association and Ipsley Middle School. Guests also delivered readings based upon the lives of those who had been persecuted during the 21st century. The event brought together diverse groups from around Redditch to help celebrate our different cultures and experiences and how this is a huge benefit to the human race.

This year, as a Holocaust Beacon School, we were invited to talk about our experiences.

Lily Satchwell (Year 11), Katie Saunders (Year 11), Shannon Alcock (Year 11), Alice Hurcombe (Year 10), Libby Harding (Year 9) and Jessica Harley (Year 9) all delivered a review of our work as a Beacon School, before finishing with a poem for reflection on the events of the Holocaust. Here is an extract of their speech:

By exploring such stories, we begin to see the complexities in such a story. There is no one narrative that can be told as it affected such a wide population. Hence, we cannot explain it simply. There are troubling truths which we must take and evaluate in modern society. It wasn’t just the Nazis but the collaborators in the majority of Western and Eastern Europe that helped this happen. This is a lesson we must not forget. No one can afford to stand by and to stay quiet. We must not stand by and actively be loud about challenging prejudice and discrimination in society at every level. As we learn, genocide doesn’t start with mass killing but a classification of “us and them”, which still exists in society today.

The lessons and questions raised by being a Beacon School are not easy to answer but allow for reflection. Only last year, in partnership with the Anne Frank Trust, we exhibited a story on Anne Frank’s life from her early life in Germany until her discovery in Amsterdam. Something which stood out for us which was the refusal of refugee by many different countries, many different times. Who knows what would have become of Anne Frank and her family should she have lived? This is the kind of loss from society which we must live with.

Our journey as a Holocaust Beacon School has only just begun and we intend to keep being loud for better Holocaust education across the county and beyond. Sadly students across the country still have huge misconceptions across the Holocaust which must be challenged and until we do this, the real value of Holocaust education may be missed.

We want to finish on a poem from Martin Niemoller

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Niemoller’s words sum up why it is so important to learn and study the Holocaust. Genocide doesn’t start with mass killing, it starts by people accepting a classification and remaining quiet. It is important that we speak out against hate at every opportunity and that we don’t stand by, that we be louder in order to help prevent future genocides but also to make the world we live in a more tolerant and diverse place to live.

The feedback received by our pupils was amazing and they were personally congratulated by the Mayor of Redditch. Many commented their words were the most powerful of the day, which is an incredible compliment.

“Your girls spoke very eloquently, and are an absolute credit to your school”

Each year has a different theme and this year it was “Torn from Home”. To finish the event we were lucky to hear the testimony from Sokphal Din. Sokphal was forced out of his home by the Khmer Rouge on 17 April 1975, he endured hard labour in the Killing Fields and eventually survived the Genocide in Cambodia by escaping to Thai refugee camps where he lived for seven years. He commented;

We knew that we’d never go back. We knew this is a lie. They just want to kill us. And we knew that we’d never see our father again. We kept hoping, but we knew that it’s impossible.

The girls did fantastically well and spoke so passionately about such an important subject and gave up a majority of their Saturday to do so! Such enthusiasm, commitment and passion is testament but hopefully an inspiration to others to #belouder about prejudice and discrimination in society so we can truly say #neveragain.