Today changed me…..

We welcome over 1000 local school students to hear the stories of Holocaust survivors….

Over the last two weeks, together with Kingston and Surbiton District Synagogue, our volunteers have been welcoming over 1000 local school students to our Shuls to listen to the testimonies of a Holocaust survivor or descendant.  This is an annual project, now in its 17th year. and is chaired by our President, Sandra Webber.

Speaker David Wirth with students from Tolworth Girls’ School

Holocaust Memorial Day is a national commemorative project which marks the international day on 27th  January to remember the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust, alongside the millions of other people killed under Nazi Persecution and in subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.  This year marks the 78th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

The theme of this year’s day was “Ordinary people” – the ordinary people who let genocide happen, the ordinary people who actively perpetrated genocide, and the ordinary people who were persecuted.

An output of one of the workshops in which students reflected on the theme of Ordinary People

The annual project consists of a series of half-day workshops taking place over two weeks. Each one has been attended by around 100 school students aged 13-15, at one of the Synagogues.  At each workshop a Holocaust Survivor, or adult descendant, gives a talk which is followed by a Q&A session and a film about people in Nazi occupied countries, who risked their own lives to help/hide Jews.  The school students then split into smaller groups to work through what they have seen and heard.

David Wirth showing an extract of a video featuring his Mother talking about her experiences in Auschwitz

The workshops conclude with a memorial ceremony in which each pupil lights a candle in remembrance of the victims and  hands a card to the speaker telling them their thoughts about the experience. One of these cards, from a year 9 student from Hollyfield School, read “Today has changed me because I didn’t know the extent of the Holocaust and it has opened my eyes and mind to the horrors”.

A student lighting a candle in the closing ceremony

Following a powerful talk by David Wirth, in which he spoke about his mother’s time in Auschwitz, Layla, a year 8 student from Tolworth Girls’ School, said “I thought it was really sad to hear about how all of it happened for no reason, and how disrepectful all the people were towards the Jews”.

Nick Cunningham, the History Teacher at Tolworh Girls’, said “Fewer and fewer people such as the girls who are here today will be able to benefit from eye-witness testimony such as that we have heard today. That’s why today’s experiences at the Synagogue are extremely special as we are practically the last generation to be able to hear directly from eye witnesses”

KLS member Ethan Kelly addresses the students at the end of the closing ceremony