Mar 2001 Journal

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AJR contributes to success of UK’s first Holocaust Memorial Day

As its contribution to the first Holocaust Memorial Day in the United Kingdom, the AJR initiated and sponsored events on the campuses of the University of Sussex and Imperial College London, altogether reaching some 2,000 students.

‘Remembrance Through Film’

Lecturers and teachers joined students from Sussex and Brighton Universities, and a number of Holocaust refugees and survivors from the city, to participate freely in a full day of sessions on Holocaust Remembrance Through Film. The opening session was chaired by Professor Edward Timms, Head of the Centre for German-Jewish Studies which developed and organised the day’s programme. University Vice-Chancellor, Professor Alasdair Smith, said that one could not be neutral between good and evil and stressed the virtues of tolerance on a campus of cultural and ethnic diversity. He thanked the AJR for their support and anticipated that a rewarding day would carry a wider message. AJR’s Head of Community Relations, Ronald Channing, invited Prof Smith to feature the event permanently in the university’s annual calendar.

Following a showing of The Children Who Cheated Hitler, a film on the Kindertransport, witness Bea Green and the film’s producer Sue Reed responded to lively questioning. Holocaust course convenor John Jacobs led a session on Victims and Survivors, showing film of ghettos and camps which included harrowing footage of Bergen-Belsen taken by Sydney Bernstein – film evidence that had remained censored until 1997! Janina Fischler-Martinho moved the audience deeply with her account of survival in the Lodz Ghetto against seemingly impossible odds. Other minorities victimised by the Nazis were remembered in a session led by Jack Gilbert with film-makers Luke Holland and Judy Ironside and local broadcaster Simon Fanshawe. Gaby Glassman conducted a workshop on the Holocaust’s psychological legacy, well attended by students and survivors, one of whose accounts left an indelible impression.

Campus’s musical commemoration

Imperial College and its director of music Richard Dickins, in co-operation with the AJR, presented a concert featuring Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, played with immense musicality and passion. Messiaen composed this for the players and instruments - violin, cello, clarinet and piano - available to him whilst a prisoner in Stalag VII where it was first performed in 1941. As in Sussex, a full concert hall validated this as the university’s contribution to Holocaust Memorial Day.

Other Holocaust Memorial Day events in which AJR members or representatives played a role included former Kinder David Jedwab and Bea Green returning to Liverpool Street Station where they first arrived in Britain 62 years ago; a ceremony in Camden Council Chamber led by the Mayor at which Cllr. Roger Robinson recalled the long fight against fascism, and the vivid testimony of two survivors was given; at the University of York where Dr Erika Harris, whose parents suffered persecution in Slovakia, related the Holocaust to modern genocide; in the West Midlands, Belsen survivor Paul Oppenheimer spoke at universities and schools; and AJR historian Dr Anthony Grenville was interviewed on BBC radio.

National ceremony

The AJR was well represented at the ceremony of commemoration held in the Central Hall, Westminster, and broadcast on national television, at which Prince Charles, Prime Minister Tony Blair and Chief Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks were joined by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, as well as the leaders of the opposition, together with Holocaust survivors and victims of more recent genocides who presented powerful testimony.

It is anticipated that the AJR’s experience and support in marking Holocaust Memorial Day in the universities will also be called upon for next year’s commemoration by other campuses.
Ronald Channing

previous article:Unquiet on the Westminster front.
next article:Band of brothers