Holocaust Memorial Day 27 January 2015
A number of activities have taken place in Shropshire this year, which was the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz from the Nazis. It's also 20 years since the genocide in Srebrenica in Bosnia. This year’s national theme is to 'keep the memory alive'. The local activities reflect this, with candle lighting, interfaith services, a national touring exhibition visiting schools, colleges, churches and other locations, and a special tree planting ceremony.
Church Stretton was one of just 70 locations across the country where candles designed by Anish Kapoor were being lit in ceremonies to mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. This links in with this year's national theme to 'keep the memory alive'. Events in Church Stretton featured a special assembly at Church Stretton School on Monday 26 January, including the lighting of the candle by a descendant of Holocaust survivors. There was then an interfaith event open to the public on the evening of the 27 January, at the Methodist Church in Church Stretton.
We also commemorated the 70th anniversary in a special treeplanting ceremony with Mereside Primary School in Shrewsbury on Tuesday 27 January. Cabinet member Councillor Mike Owen planted a fruit cherry tree with the help of pupils from the school and Shropshire and Shrewsbury Town Councillor Jane Mackenzie.
The short ceremony was participated in by Mr Mark Michaels of the Jewish community in south Shropshire and the South Shropshire Interfaith Forum, and by people from the Shrewsbury Interfaith Forum.
Councillor Mackenzie told the children about how her grandfather had personally saved more than 250 Jewish children from death camps, and Mr Michaels told them about what the commemoration of the liberation meant to him as a member of the Jewish community.
Mr Michaels helped Shropshire Council with advice on the event, including the type of tree. A British cherry tree, variety "Black Oliver" from the West Midlands, was chosen in recognition of the importance of fruit trees to the Jewish faith. The tree is also one of the trees in the “Incredible Edible Shropshire” project, for fruit trees that will contribute to a sustainable natural environment. It was grown in Weston Rhyn.
The children helped Mr Michaels to light the special Auschwitz candle, which he had brought with him from its central role in the event at Church Stretton School the day before. He then said a memorial prayer in Hebrew and English.. The interfaith service in Church Stretton later that day was not the end of the journey for the candle: students from Church Stretton school are taking it to Germany to the site of a concentration camp near Berlin.
The tree planting ceremony included a promise by the school to help look after the tree, and a prayer for peace. Radio Shropshire came and spoke to the children to hear from them about what it meant to them, as well as from Councillor Owen. Thank you letters are being sent to the four children who took part on behalf of their school.
Shrewsbury Town Council is supporting the project as landowner, including preparing the ground beforehand and maintaining the area afterwards. Children from Mereside Primary School will also be helping to look after the tree once it is planted.
The hope is that it will be possible to plant a cherry tree in another part of the county next year, following the example of Southend Borough Council, where a tree is planted each year on Holocaust Memorial Day.
Complementing the above events is the national 'RighteousMuslims' exhibition, which arrived in Shropshire for a six week tour that has included schools, colleges and churches. The schedule also included Shirehall in Shrewsbury from 2-6 February 2015; Shrewsbury United Reform Church on 10 February 2015; and a week long residency at the Redwoods Centre in Shrewsbury from 9th to 13th February 2015.
The exhibition comprises nine panels with photographs of Muslims who sheltered Jews during World War Two, alongside stories detailing their acts of heroism. The exhibition aims to celebrate the role Muslims played in saving Jewish lives during the Holocaust.
Between 1941 and 1945, the Nazis attempted to systematically annihilate all of Europe’s Jews. This is known as the Holocaust, or the Shoah in Hebrew. By the end of the Holocaust, six million Jewish men, women and children had perished in ghettos, mass-shootings, in concentration camps and extermination camps.
The 27 January marks the date of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau by Soviet troops. Auschwitz was a network of several camps, combining forced labour and extermination camps. Over 1.1 million people were murdered at this site, over 90% of the victims being Jewish. The peak of the slaughter occurred in 1944, when more than 400,000 Hungarian Jews were killed in just two months.
Additional detail on the Holocaust has been sourced from the Holocaust Memorial Day website.
The HMD website also gives more detail about wider Nazi persecution, and about other genocides that have been committed since World War Two. This encompasses genocides in Cambodia (1975-1979); Rwanda (1994); Bosnia (1992-1995); and ongoing genocide in Darfur since 2003.
It is twenty years since the genocide in July 1995 in Srebrenica, Bosnia. A total of around 23,000 women, children and elderly people were deported from the town. 8,000 Muslim men, along with boys aged around 13 years and older, were then killed under the orders of General Ratko Mladic.