Speaking at a Holocaust Memorial Day event at Watford Synagogue, Holocaust survivor Lily Ebert urged students present to “Tell the world our story because in a few years’ time we will not be here."
Sharing her wartime experience, Lily noted, “This genocide was carried out by highly educated people who used their brains not to see how they could help people but how to kill them.” Among the messages to take away she said, “If you only learn one thing, it’s that it is not important whether our skin is white or black, what religion we are, what nation we belong to. It’s not better or worse, just different – we are all human, our blood is red and when you cut us it hurts.”
Lily was wearing a small but highly symbolic gold pendant her mother had hurriedly hidden in the heel of her shoe as a transportable item of value. Miraculously, Lily managed to hide it in a small crust of bread throughout her time at the Auschwitz and Bergen Belsen camps. She believes it could well be the only gold that went into Auschwitz and came out again with its original owner.
Watford Synagogue welcomed almost 300 pupils from local schools to a series of educational sessions on 9 and 10 February. The year 9 to 13 students had the rare opportunity to listen to a Holocaust survivor recount their personal stories first-hand and take part in a workshop relating historical facts about the Holocaust to contemporary issues such as racism, discrimination, persecution and citizenship. Each session concluded with closing reflections from Watford Synagogue’s Rabbi Ephraim Levine, a minute’s silence and the lighting of a memorial candle.
Participating schools from the local area included Watford Boys’ Grammar School, Hemel Hempstead School, The Barclay School, Stevenage and students studying Health & Social Care at West Herts College in Watford.
Those present were clearly moved by what they had heard. After listening to Lily Ebert’s account, one Watford Boys’ Grammar pupil commented, “When people think about the Holocaust they think about the gas chambers and camps but you don’t realise it’s also about the separation of families who may never meet again. That’s what I learned from your talk.” Another student, from West Herts College in Watford, said to Holocaust survivor Toby Biber, “You have encouraged me to make the world a better place.”
“People who deny what happened should be ashamed of themselves. Thank you for educating our generation about the horrible, scary journey you went on at such a young age,” commented one West Herts College student vowing, “What you have shared with me today will stay with me forever.”
A student from Hemel Hempstead School remarked, “You are the most inspirational person I have ever met. Our school tells us to aspire but I didn’t know who to aspire to until I met you today. I easily give up on the smallest things in life but after what you have told me about how you should not give up no matter what, I am going to strive and work hard in life.”
Rabbi Levine explained, “Remembering the Holocaust is vitally important today as it warns us about the perils of turning a blind eye from helping those who desperately need our help. The Holocaust was unique in its evil and so many lives could have been saved had others not simply looked the other way. This year’s theme, ‘Don’t Stand By’ should be our guiding ethos as we approach today’s crises that demand our immediate response.”
The Watford Synagogue events were part of a bigger programme of Northwood Holocaust Memorial Day activities involving over 3,050 pupils representing almost 50 schools from Dacorum, Hertfordshire, the London Boroughs of Harrow and Hillingdon, Bedfordshire and Berkshire. Now in its 15th year, the programme aims to educate students about Nazi atrocities, make a connection between the Holocaust and subsequent genocides and invite students to consider their personal responsibility to promote tolerance in today’s world. Some 25,000 pupils have participated to date.
This year, for the first time, the educational programme opened with a symposium at which experts discussed the importance of Holocaust education in 21st century Britain. Chaired by Master of the Rolls and Head of Civil Justice Lord John Dyson, distinguished guest speakers included Paul Giannasi OBE, Head of the Government Hate Crime Programme, Olivia Marks-Woldman, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and Mark Gardner, Communications Officer of the Community Security Trust. The programme culminated in a closing ceremony attended by Sir Peter Bazalgette, chair of the Arts Council and the new UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation, which has been tasked with taking forward the recommendations of David Cameron’s Holocaust Commission.
Any school or college wishing to register their interest in taking part in a Holocaust Memorial event next year should email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 08456 448 006.