Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Holocaust Memorial Day Liverpool 2012

Once again I was honoured to be part of the Holocaust Memorial Day events in Liverpool for 2012. The annual day of remembrance takes place nationally on or around the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz Concentration Camp, January 27th.

Having worked with a small team on Kensington Remembers and then Liverpool Remembers, Kensington based commemorations over the last 4 years, this year for the second time, I was part of a small team of people who organised the event that took place on January 26th in Liverpool Town Hall at the invitation of the Lord Mayor.

Our programme was guided by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and the theme this year was "Speak up, speak out".

The theme asks us to think about the rights, responsibility and duty we all have to speak up when we see or hear something which we believe to be wrong. It challenges us to learn about what happens when we don’t speak out and what can happen when we do use our voice.

HMD 2012 looks at how we make a choice when to speak up and considers the dangers in both choosing to speak out and not speaking up and asks us all to speak up against injustice and hatred today. Using the famous Niemoller poem as an inspiration, the theme asks us to speak up today.

Incorporating those themes, and including the voices of children and young people which are very important to communities in Liverpool, our programme included singing of appropriate songs by choirs from King David High School, King David Junior School and Holy Cross RC Primary School.

We had prayers from Rabbi Mordechai Wollenberg, Childwall Hebrew Congregation who had immediately previously laid a wreath at the memorial in St John's Gardens with the Lord Mayor and representatives from Liverpool City Council.

We heard the world famous poem, "First They Came", written by Pastor Martin Niemoller, read by a pupil from King David High School. We had a minute silence to remember the victims and their families and descendants.

Mrs Inge Goldrein talked about her experiences as a young girl, who came to live with distant relatives in Merseyside and thus she personally avoided death, although the horrors of the round-up and murder of Jews across Europe meant that tragically she never saw her family again.

Max Steinberg OBE, Chief Executive of Liverpool Vision talked about the story of Dr Ludwig Guttmann. He was the founder of the Paralympics which will of course be held in England this year. He was a Jewish doctor who fled Germany in 1939 to seek refuge in England. His work with disabled people led him to establish the Paralympics. Dr Guttman spoke up for the rights of disabled people to be given the same opportunities in the sporting arena as other athletes.

And finally, to commemorate genocides and atrocities that continue to rage across our world, my friend and colleague from Liverpool Remembers, AimeClaude Ndongozi, formerly from Rwanda but now a resident in Liverpool, talked about his personal loss and experiences.

I have been particularly asked to reproduce his speech, and I do so below.

I am honoured to be with you on this Holocaust Memorial Day.
On this day, I am privileged to join you all in expressing our deep grief and our outrage over the terror, utter humiliation and despicable crimes committed against millions of innocent Jews by the Nazis.
I stand with the survivors and join in their voices and those of the whole human family affirming that humanity was diminished because of the evil they endured.
I also wish to salute the sacrifice in blood made by this country and others to defeat the Nazi’s death machine, to free the deportees from Nazi’s extermination and concentration camps and restore freedom to the shores of Europe.
The Holocaust was certainly the deepest humanity has ever sunk in its own contempt for human life and dignity.  It has left a scar, etched forever on the conscience of humanity. 
That is why we should never forget. We should not and we must not forget for the struggle to end oppression, discrimination, violence and atrocities, continues.
Despite the progress made in promoting human rights around the world, and despite our “never again” commitments, “man’s inhumanity to man” carries on, 67 years after the end of the Holocaust.
Today, we also remember men and women, victims of genocides and atrocities in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur, Congo, Burundi and many other places.
On this day we remember that violence and brutality are still occurring in many parts of our World, often away from the world cameras, leaving behind desolation, immense pain and deep wounds.
I have personally shared at the bitter cup of suffering. I know what it means to lose loved ones to violence. I know the pain.
My father was killed in June 1994. His killers would not afford him a bullet. So he was stabbed and left to die in the pool of his own blood, in our backyard, where I grew up and played as a child. A place of happy memories became a place of death and mourning. His last words to me in the summer of 1993 were “Son, always sow seeds of goodness”. I hold dear this legacy.
My mother fled eastward and ended in a refuge Camp in Eastern Congo. Two years later, camps were attacked by Rwandan forces. My mother, my brother, my sister, her children and other refugees were tricked into joining a transit camp. But the trickery was an ambush from which they never came back. The camp was surrounded and bombed. In an attempt to erase all traces, the bodies were burnt.  No trace. No grave. Fortunately few people have escaped and stand today as witnesses of those horrors.
So for my loved ones’ sake, I can longer keep quiet before injustice, oppression, hatred and atrocities. I consider speaking up as the rent I pay for being alive. I intend to speak up for as long as God will give me breath.
But what I have on my heart is the opposite of hatred. Hatred destroys and causes so much pain and suffering. What is on my heart is love, the only cure of suffering I know of and in the words of Martin Luther King Jr. “the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend”. The love I am talking about is the intentional choice to be in the other’s shoes, to feel their pain, to endeavour to see the world from their perspective and to promote their dignity, simply because they are human beings.
I believe we all bleed when one part of humanity is wounded. So, my heart breaks for every victim of “man’s inhumanity to man”. My heart breaks for the 800 000 Tutsi who were savagely killed in the genocide by their neighbours turned into Hutu militia, for hundreds of thousands Hutu killed in Rwanda and Eastern Congo by the Tutsi army, for Congolese people killed in a war they had not started, for children robbed of their mothers and fathers, for men and women of all ethnic groups and for all the survivors still weeping for the loss of their loved ones.
Today, will you let go of your indifference? Will your “never again” become more than words? Or, will it become action rallies, speaking out with courage and fearlessness against genocide, violence, anti-Semitism, racism, extremism and discriminations, no matter where they are committed?
For some of us who have suffered the loss of our loved ones due to other people’s brutality and violence, I have a gentle word of warning. We know it hurts, we know the tears we have shed, we know the bleak nights we have spent and we know the clouds of despair we have had to fight to carry on.  I have come to understand that we can use our pain to hurt others or to heal them. How will you use your pain? As we call for justice, for we must; and as we fight impunity, for we must; let’s guard ourselves against diminishing the humanity of those who hurt us. Through our pain, maybe something new could be birthed: a passion for human dignity. Those who hurt us remain human beings and God’s children too. They too need love and healing. So, let’s pray for them. Let’s remember that we, like them carry the seed of evil, side by side with our capacity for good. Let’s remember that we are called to forgive and can and should and must forgive. I call this “the road least traveled”! But this narrow and rocky road leads to a wonderful renewal. A renewal which is the hope for our world! Oh, I know, this is not popular. It’s hard. But, with Desmond Tutu, I am convinced that that the “never again” commitment will not come to pass fully without forgiveness.
Will you stand and keep your candles of hope burning?
I too have a dream, that a world without oppression and atrocities is possible. But your contribution and mine are needed. Please do not go back from this event and live as usual. Would you take action, in your small way, in your schools, your university, your community, your shopping centre, your work place and your places of worship?
Let the 2012 Holocaust Memorial Day inspire us with the faith to dream a better, more tolerant world and the passion to change lives – against all odds. Let’s not be afraid. Let’s stand up and believe. Let’s make genocide history! Let’s red card all discriminations! And as we stand, May our loving God heal our sorrows and use us to heal others around us.
Thank you.  

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