29th Jun, 2022

Holocaust Memorial Day 2020: how the 75th anniversary of Auschwitz liberation was marked in Coventry

Catherine Vonledebur 29th Jan, 2020 Updated: 29th Jan, 2020

COMMEMORATIONS for the 75th anniversary of Holocaust liberation have taken place across the West Midlands this week.

On Tuesday (January 28), Holocaust survivor Dr Agnes Kaposi, who survived Hungary’s Debrecen ghetto and labour camps in Austria, visited an art exhibition at Coventry Cathedral created by pupils from six city schools in response to testimonies of Holocaust survivors.

The Hungarian-Jewish emeritus professor in electrical engineering at London South Bank University and author of a memoir, Yellow Star, Red Star, was joined by with Lady Esther Gilbert, a noted Holocaust historian.

The exhibition forms part of the 2020 Echo Eternal Youth Arts Festival which has been taking place over three weeks in January and February 2020 to mark Holocaust Memorial Day 2020 and the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp. Auschwitz-Birkenau was the largest of all the Nazi camps, where approximately 1.1 million people were murdered.

Pupils from six Coventry schools – Parkgate, Riverbank, Finham Park School, President Kennedy, Stoke Park and Barr’s Hill – were among 5,000 young people taking part in a live performance consisting of newly commissioned music, dance and spoken word tributes at Birmingham’s Town Hall on Tuesday January 28.

Newly commissioned music, dance and spoken word tributes were devised by Highly Sprung Performance Company and the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. These responses have been combined with the artwork and films developed in schools across Birmingham and Coventry over the past 12 months.

Thomas Arnett, a Year 12 student at Finham Park School, said: “Performing our spoken word piece today at the Town Hall was very moving, this is such an important cause and it’s an honour to be part of something that is in memory of the people who have died, not just in the Holocaust but in every genocide. It means a lot to everyone involved in Echo Eternal, to be able to share the message of standing together no matter the circumstances. Performing in front of the survivors this evening will mean we’ll give it our all, they are the ultimate critics of all the hard work we’ve put in.”

Steph Zapodeanu, a 14-year-old student at Barr’s Hill School, said: “I felt a huge responsibility to do justice to the survivor testimony and getting the message of tolerance and standing together out there. Through Echo Eternal I have learned that we should always treat each other with respect and kindness. I’m so happy I got to meet Holocaust survivor Harry Olmer, it was very emotional. It’s not every day you get an amazing opportunity like that.”

And Lily Sandal, aged 12, who also attends Barr’s Hill School, said: “It’s been really interesting speaking to the community who have been visiting our Echo Eternal exhibition at Coventry Cathedral. Singing in the live performance at the Town Hall has been really exciting.”

Developed by CORE Education Trust, Echo Eternal is a commemorative arts, media and civic engagement project. The project is inspired by British Holocaust survivors’ testimonies recorded with Natasha Kaplinsky OBE in 2015 and 2016 on behalf of UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation. There is also an exhibition at St Paul’s Church, in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter.

On Monday (January 27) Coventry’s Holocaust Memorial Day event in Broadgate was one of thousands held across the UK united by the 2020 theme, Stand Together, to remember the many victims of genocide and hate in recent history.

It included a talk by guest speaker Clive Stone, who visited Auschwitz last November, poems read by Coventry Young Ambassadors from Good Shepherd and Stoke primary schools, students from Coventry University Student Union, poetry read by pupils from Stoke Park school, one of 15 English schools working with University Colleges London’s Centre for Holocaust Education and music.

The Lady Mayor, coun Linda Bigham, said: “It is 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps and 25 years since the massacre of 8000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica, Bosnia. We can all learn from history and this event helps us recognise and pay our respect to the millions who died during the Holocaust and more recent genocides.”

A packed 45-minute memorial service for Holocaust Memorial Day took place at 11am on Monday 27 January at Solihull Council’s Civic Suite attended by the Mayor of Solihull Stuart Davis, representatives of Solihull’s Jewish community including Rabbi Pink, Chief Superintendent Lee Wharmby and West Midlands Deputy Lieutenant Stephen Goldstein CBE. Councillors listened intently as Rabbi Pink, founder and convenor of the West Midlands Jewish Medical Ethics Forum and the Solihull Jewish Business Ethics Forum, talked about his own family’s experiences during the Holocaust; while Yousaf Caan and Rosie Turton reflected on a recent tour of Auschwitz, Poland.

At the national commemorative ceremony at Central Hall in Westminster, London, attended by more than a dozen Holocaust and genocide survivors, as well as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Boris Johnson, the PM said: “As prime minister, I promise that we will preserve this truth forever. I will make sure we will build a national Holocaust and memorial centre so that future generations can never doubt what happened.”

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