Holocaust Memorial Day was superbly organised by Mrs Abecasis on Friday 24th January. Students from three different local schools: Copthall, St Mary’s, and Barnet Hill Academy joined our girls for the morning’s events.
The opening ceremony introduced the theme ‘Standing Together’. Rabbi Golker gave a Dvar Torah, where he linked concepts from Tehillim 22 to ideas of redemption and the 4 cups of wine. He thanked Mrs Abecasis for all the work she has done, not only in Hasmonean, but at the Imperial War Museum and other venues to keep the flame of Memorial alive.
Mrs Abecasis welcomed our visitors and gave a powerful presentation on what it means to be a bystander. Throughout history, regimes which have committed genocide have begun by deliberately fracturing society. This is why it is so important not to be a bystander, but to stand together.
This year, the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz is a particularly significant time to stand together. In introducing the workshops, Mrs Abecasis explained that we can stand together by dissolving the concepts of ‘Us and Them’ and by stepping away from propaganda used to divide us. She concluded by saying we must “STAND TOGETHER AGAINST DIVISION AND HATE and STAND TOGETHER TO SUPPORT THOSE IN NEED.” Don’t be content in your life just to do no wrong… try every day to do some good!
Next, Mr McClusky spoke to the school. He spoke about the importance of having pride in ourselves- which we can only have if we have respect for others. When our empathy fails and we deny the humanity of others, then other groups appear less than human. As a community, Jews should celebrate, not hide our heritage. He spoke about seeing the gas chambers of Auschwitz on school trips to Poland and the effect that had on him and the students, and he explained that the images that stay with him are the pride, strength and unity of the Hasmonean students.
Mr Kalley spoke about the Year 12’s journey to Poland each year and how it is a life altering experience. He said that to stand together means to remember the victims of all genocide and that we need to remember the victims today. He said as someone who is not part of the Jewish community that he stands with them today remembering the Holocaust.
The last speaker was Mr Heddle. He mentioned that he is originally from Australia and the fact that at the moment there is a huge amount of Australia that is on fire. He spoke about the massive impact that this is having on the people of Australia. The communities of Australia are standing together to support each other – as are people from all over the world. The world is standing with Australia to fight against a climate disaster that is occurring in the Southern hemisphere, possibly due to climate change. Everyone is standing together to try to deal with this terrible disaster.
Each year group had a different workshop to attend. Year 7 learned about the Kinder Transport with Rev Bernd Koschland MBE, who was one of those children. Year’s 8 and 9 explored propaganda in art and in the media. Year 10, along with our guest students, discussed the refugee crisis then and now with Dr Edie Friedman from JCORE. Our Year 11’s welcomed Eve Kugler, a Holocaust survivor, and the Sixth Form met with Lily Ebert, another survivor.
After break, all classes from Years 8-13 had the extraordinary opportunity to hear a very different presentation, that of Mr Derek Niemann, whose grandfather was an SS Commandant. He is the author of ‘A Nazi in the Family.’ The students listened in complete silence to the speaker giving a differing perspective to that of a survivor of the Holocaust. They listened as Mr Derek Niemann spoke with courage, conviction, clear abject horror and disgust at the horrors he learnt that his grandfather had committed. His very clear message was: share common humanity.
A varied Q & A session followed. He was asked how he found out about his grandfather – he found a sheet on Google from the Nuremberg Trials with his grandfather’s name on it and listed his grandfather’s crimes against humanity.
He stated that he does not like his grandfather for what he did. He said that when he joined the Nazi party he was 37 and therefore knew what he was doing and cannot be excused in any way for what he did. His own father gave only a partial view of his own father as an SS officer. He believes that his father hid this fact and that this could be because his father, after years of telling lies about aspects of his history and hiding what his father did, started to believe his own stories.
The school moved back to the hall for the closing ceremony which began with Mrs Barnes, Headteacher at St Mary’s, thanking Hasmonean for a wonderful experience and commenting on the fact that people spend more time looking at their differences than at their similarities. She concluded with a prayer read at St Mary’s.
Mrs Brice took to the stage, thanking all the speakers and stressing the importance of standing together- the events of Bosnia and Rwanda show that the world still stands by when genocide happens. This is why standing together, and standing up for people – such as those who organised the Kinder Transport – is so important. She then asked everyone in the hall to stand up and to link arms with each other and to say – united we stand, defeated we fall.
Written by Mrs J Ellerman, Mrs P Jacobson and Ms L Foster