3rd October 2022
Holocaust Memorial Day is on 27th January each year, and commemorates the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp. On this day we remember the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust, alongside the millions of other people killed under Nazi persecution of other groups and in genocides that followed including those in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.
The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust has a very helpful website which includes resources for schools and young people
The chaplaincy team at CYO in Colchester have helped schools and colleges mark Holocaust Memorial Day by working alongside staff to create activities for reflection and prayer.
One school where we work has an Amnesty group who were keen to be involved in the HMD commemoration. Thanks to a local contact we were able to borrow a fabric flame lamp which we surrounded with mesh, making sure to tuck the sharp ends of the wire inside, being a visual approximation of the Amnesty candle logo. This was placed in the school library which is open to students at break and lunch times. Students were invited to read about the Holocaust, using information and images from the HMD website. If they wanted to they could then write their name, thoughts or a prayer onto a yellow ribbon and tie it into the mesh.
The flame lamp created lots of interest which helped to draw young people into the activity. Many felt the activity helped them to understand the Holocaust and other genocides in a new way. They appreciated the process of writing on a ribbon as a way of expressing their feelings about these events through a tangible action.
In the local FE College our chaplain again worked with staff and students to create a Holocaust memorial display and reflective activity in the main thoroughfare between Reception and other parts of the college where it would be seen by most students. This time a simple led tree was used alongside printed resources and students could write on purple ribbons (purple being the colour of the HMD logo) and tie them onto the tree.
Students and staff said how much they appreciated the activity and how important they thought it was and we were struck by the range of stories and experiences they shared. Comments included the uncomfortable feelings they had about an ancestors’ involvement, what it was like to visit Auschwitz or other concentration camps and the lasting impact on families when a grandparent was a Holocaust survivor. There were also some in college who have recent first hand experience of escaping persecution and the threat of death in other parts of the world and who identified with the theme of genocide and were glad to be able to tell their stories.
Holocaust Memorial is an important event and provides a really easy way to work with History departments, student services and those responsible for equality and diversity. For students and staff they provide a simple way of responding to the horrors of genocide helping people to give outward expression to the inner feelings of righteous anger, grief and the sense of injustice that such events are part of the human story.