Holocaust Memorial Day 2016 has been marked in Christchurch with a ceremony. Originally planned for the site of the Holocaust Memorial on Christchurch Quay, bad weather forced the main part of event to be held in the nearby Captains Club Hotel with wreaths being laid at the Holocaust Memorial following the ceremony.
Cllr Bernie Davis, Portfolio Holder for Community at Christchurch Borough Council, led the ceremony saying: “On Holocaust Memorial Day we take time to honour the survivors of oppressive regimes and challenge ourselves to use the lessons of their experience to inform our lives today and in future generations. However, discrimination has not ended, nor has the use of the language of hatred or exclusion. There is still much to do to create a safer future. Holocaust Memorial Day is an opportunity to start this process.”
Following a prayer by the Vicar of Christchurch, The Reverend Canon Charles Stewart, the Mayor of Christchurch, Cllr Frederick Neale read the Statement of Commitment in remembrance of the millions of people who were murdered or whose lives were changed beyond recognition during the Holocaust and in subsequent genocides.
Harry Grenville spoke movingly about events he remembered from his childhood as part of a Jewish family in Ludwigsburg, near Stuttgart. He detailed the events which led to his parents and grandparents losing their wholesale business, and therefore their income, and of their synagogue being destroyed on the infamous Kristallnacht (night of broken glass) on 10 November 1938.
Some days later legislation was enacted in the British parliament which allowed children from countries under Nazi control to come to Britain under the Kindertransport programme. As one of nearly 10,000 children who came to Britain, Harry arrived here in July 1939 and was fostered by a non-Jewish family in North Cornwall. He later discovered that his parents and grandparents had been killed in Auschwitz.
Josephine Jackson then told the story of her friend Gisela Freiberg-Thomas who had managed to get a ticket on the SS St Louis which left Germany in May 1939 with 937 refugees on board bound for Cuba. When the boat arrived at Havana it was not allowed to dock and, following fruitless journeys between Havana and Miami, the boat returned to Europe where eventually Britain, France, Belgium and Holland agreed to take the refugees. Gisela was one of 288 who were accepted by Britain.
She went to London but later met her husband Gordon Thomas, who was present at the ceremony, and moved with him to Dorset where she practised and taught millinery. They eventually came to live in Mudeford. Sadly, Gisela passed away in April 2015, aged 92.
The ceremony concluded with Rabbi Jesner from the Bournemouth Hebrew Congregation saying prayers.
People at the ceremony were then invited to go out to the Holocaust Memorial on Christchurch Quay where wreaths were laid by Gordon Thomas in memory of his wife Gisela, by the Mayor of Christchurch, Cllr Frederick Neale and by Rose Hopkins and Luis Martinez from The Priory School in memory of the children who died in the Holocaust and past and current genocides.
The Memorial at Christchurch Quay was unveiled in 2015 to mark the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust with the message ‘To keep the memory alive’. The 2016 Holocaust Memorial Day has the theme of ‘Don’t stand by’.
An exhibition about the Holocaust is taking place at Christchurch Library until 30 January 2016.
More information about Holocaust Memorial Day can be found at http://hmd.org.uk/.