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Cambridge commemorates victims of the Holocaust and genocide at civic ceremony

News release from 23/01/2020

CAMBRIDGE City Council is commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day with a free civic ceremony at Cambridge Corn Exchange this Sunday 26 January from 3pm.

This year’s event marks two significant anniversaries – 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, and 25 years since the genocide of the Bosnian war. Over 6 million Jewish people were murdered in the Holocaust (about two thirds of the pre-war European Jewish population) and it is estimated that at least 11 million people died as a result of the Nazi regime’s policies.

The ceremony at the Corn Exchange will comprise songs, readings, poetry and drama, including words from survivor testimonies and messages from groups actively campaigning for equalities and supporting diversity today. The theme for this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day programme is ‘Stand Together’.

It will also bring together children from different schools in Cambridge who will perform pieces that they have been working on with poet Michael Rosen, historian Helen Weinstein of Historyworks and Holocaust survivor Eva Clarke.

Hundreds of children at a number of Cambridge schools have been working with Michael, Helen and Eva on a programme of education relating to the Holocaust and subsequent genocides, in the run-up to Sunday’s event. The programme combines music, history, art and creative writing to provide a cross-curricular way of learning about the subject.

More than 900 secondary school students and 3,000 primary school children have attended workshops, which Historyworks provide on behalf of the council, since the programme began two and a half years ago.

Cllr Anna Smith, Executive Councillor for Communities, said: “We are honoured once again to be hosting Cambridge’s commemorations for Holocaust Memorial Day. This will be the 20th year that we have run such an event.

“This year’s theme is ‘Stand Together’, and marks both 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau and 25 years since the massacre in Srebrenica. As a historian and former history teacher, I am only too aware how much the history of the Holocaust and subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur, shows us we need to stand together in today’s world. We need to stand together against persecution and prejudice, and do all we can to prevent such terrible events ever happening again.

“The civic ceremony is an opportunity for people to come together and express their solidarity with those who have experienced the very worst of humanity, to mourn those who have been murdered, and to demonstrate that Cambridge is a place that rejects all forms of persecution, discrimination and hatred.”

Helen Weinstein of Historyworks said: “The work we do with Cambridge schools has a big impact on communities, their understanding of the importance of commemorating genocides, standing alongside the persecuted and linking learning about the past to acts of support in the present.

“As part of the programme we organise talks by a range of survivors from wars and genocides who give eye-witness testimony, and allow young people to ask lots of their own questions. This way Cambridge’s young people can understand the scale of racism, prejudice and discrimination involved in a genocide, and the consequences if racism and prejudice are not challenged.”

Author Michael Rosen said: “Marking Holocaust Memorial Day with a programme of education and events is a way of remembering the horrifying genocides of the mid-20th century but it’s also a way of alerting ourselves to more recent genocidal horrors. 

“Historyworks, in their programme of Holocaust Education, ask the young people in schools to respond to the Holocaust in many different ways – some of them through poetry, dance, narratives, song, drama, and documentary. Why do we do this? It’s because the arts ask us to both learn what happened but also to empathise with the victims, to think and feel at the same time. 

“This is a difficult, challenging matter but if we want to avoid a rise in racism, we feel these things need to be tackled at the grass roots. The arts put pictures and movements and music and words in front of us to help us ask questions like: what would I feel like in that situation? What would I have done? This gives us wisdom and strength.”