January 2021

Holocaust Memorial Day 2021: Be the light in the darkness

Inspiring a safer future, by learning from the lessons of the past, is the message that will see communities across the world unite on Wednesday 27th January to mark Holocaust Memorial Day. 

This particular date was chosen for its historical significance as being the day in 1945 that saw the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet forces.

Since 2001 in the UK, and 2005 internationally, Holocaust Memorial Day has become an annual commemoration of not only those who suffered under Nazi persecution, but also those who died in subsequent genocides in Bosnia, Cambodia, Rwanda and Darfur.

In January 2013, Withernsea High School was honoured to host the East Riding of Yorkshire Council’s own commemoration of these past atrocities. The moving and reflective event was held under that year’s global title of ‘Communities together build a bridge’, where the night was as much about sadness for the past as it was about hope for future.

This year’s theme, ‘Be the light in the darkness’, similarly encourages people to reflect on the past and the depths humanity can sink to, but also look at the ways individuals and communities resisted that darkness to ‘be the light’ before, during and after genocide.

Teacher of History, and Second in Humanities, Sam Bell commented: ‘The Holocaust, a watershed event in world history, occurred in the context of the Second World War and saw many millions persecuted and murdered by Nazi Germany and its collaborators between 1933 and 1945.

At Withernsea High School, in the summer term, Year 8 Historians explore the events of the Holocaust in these years, with specific topics including; life for Jews in Germany, Ghettos in Europe, Kindertransport, Concentration and Extermination Camps, Liberation and how the events are represented in film.

Through exploring these subjects, pupils are given the opportunity to recognise that genocide is not something that takes place on its own - it's a steady process which begins if discrimination, racism and hatred are not checked and prevented.

As the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust rightly says, 'unfortunately, discrimination around the world has not ended, nor has the use of the language of hatred or exclusion. There is still much to do to create a safer future and the 27th January (Holocaust Memorial Day) is an opportunity to begin this process'.

Over the past two decades, Withernsea High School has hosted visits from a number of Holocaust Survivors who have shared their remarkable stories with our students. The last such visit came in July 2017 when Leisel Carter, a survivor who escaped Nazi Germany in 1939, spoke to Year 9 students about her experience.

Leisel’s opening words that day were ‘Mine isn’t a horror story, it is a happy story’. She was able to see the light through the darkness and, thanks to events such as Holocaust Memorial Day, it is hoped that many more will be able to do the same.

The official UK Holocaust Memorial Day 2021 ceremony will be streamed online, between 7pm and 8pm, on Wednesday, 27th January. Please register on the following website to receive the link in advance of the ceremony: https://www.hmd.org.uk/uk-holocaust-memorial-day-2021-ceremony

INK: Since 2005, Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) has been supported by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, a charity set up and funded by the UK Government. Please see the HMD website for further information: https://www.hmd.org.uk

Please click here to view/download Leisel's incredible story 

 A recording of the 2013 ‘Communities build a bridge’ event, held at Withernsea High School and featuring the incredible life-story of Nathan Greenstein, is available to watch/view here - https://youtu.be/_ZrGqaMBBQo

• Viewer/reader discretion is advised for the accounts featured in both the Communities build a bridge video, and in the transcript of Leisel Carter’s speech, as you may find some elements of them distressing. 

• If students have any questions, or they would like to talk to someone about the content of this article, they are welcome to contact their history teacher. 

ABOVE: Holocaust survivor Leisel Carter, with WHS staff members - July 2017. 

BELOW: Scott Hamilton (former WHS Head of Art) shared the story of his grandfather's escape from the horrors of Nazi Germany at the 2013 East Riding Holocaust Commemoration Event.