East Renfrewshire and Renfrewshire Councils jointly hosted this year’s National Holocaust Memorial Day event on Monday this week.
The event, held at Eastwood Park Theatre, was an evening of music, poetry and survivor stories which highlighted the true horror of the Holocaust and subsequent genocides.
Telling his story was Martin Stern, who in spring 1944, aged five, was arrested with his one year old sister by the Nazis in the Netherlands because their father was a Jew. The vast majority of such children were gassed in the Auschwitz or Sobibor killing centres, but thanks to a chain of remarkable events, both were among the tiny number of children who escaped and survived. Last May he was honoured with the MBE by the Queen for his invaluable work.
Farida Abbas Khalaf also spoke and highlighted that the atrocities of the past are still present today. She is one of more than 6,500 Yazidi survivors of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) enslavement and genocide. She was born in Kocho-Sinjar, Northern Iraq, and was a high school student when ISIS attacked her village, killing men and taking women and children hostages. She was then taken into captivity where she was subjected to unimaginable suffering including physical and mental abuse. Since her escape, Farida has been an effective part of Yazda global advocacy campaign to bring ISIS militants to justice and has published her book ‘The Girls who Beat ISIS’.
The memorial was held in partnership with Interfaith Scotland, the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and the Scottish Government, who were represented by Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government, Aileen Campbell.
As well as the speakers, there were music performances by pupils from Paisley Grammar and East Renfrewshire schools and a poem recited, marking the 25th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda.
Ahead of the national memorial, over 250 pupils from six local authorities across the West of Scotland were brought together at Eastwood Park Theatre to pay their respects and listen to Martin and Farida speak. The children came from schools in East Renfrewshire, Renfrewshire, East Ayrshire, West Dunbartonshire, Inverclyde and South Lanarkshire.
Provost of East Renfrewshire, Councillor Jim Fletcher said: “It was an honour to host the national memorial here in East Renfrewshire. We are home to Scotland’s largest Jewish population and enjoy a wonderful relationship with the Jewish community, so marking Holocaust Memorial Day every year is something extremely important to all of us. Listening to the horror experienced by Martin and Farida was truly harrowing but it is only right that we listen to them, never forget what they went through and help to ensure that it never happens again.”
Provost of Renfrewshire, Councillor Lorraine Cameron said: “I’m pleased we have been able to join together with East Renfrewshire Council to host the national Holocaust Memorial Day events. This year’s theme ‘Torn from Home’ reflects the loss of safety, comfort and security caused by the Holocaust – something many of us are fortunate enough to take for granted. It is our collective responsibility to work to prevent this from ever happening again and this service ensures that the lessons of the past continue to be passed on and ensures the younger generation recognise the importance of marking the Holocaust.”
Director of Interfaith Scotland, Dr Maureen Sier said: “Every year as we gather to remember the victims of the Holocaust and subsequent genocides, I feel honoured to meet brave survivors and hear their stories. I’m saddened as I reflect on just how much work is needed on a global scale to ensure that such tragedies no longer take place. ‘Torn from home’ is the theme of Holocaust Memorial Day this year and as Scotland remembers, I hope that we can act together to ensure that one day hatred and intolerance will be homeless here.”
Communities Secretary Aileen Campbell said: “I was extremely moved by the stories I heard during the memorial event. We must never forget the horrors of the Holocaust and other genocides around the world.
“They are a stark reminder of the inhumanity and violence that bigotry and intolerance can wreak when left unchallenged. As a government we are doing everything we can to build a Scotland where everyone can live free from fear of prejudice and discrimination.”
The theme for this year’s memorial was ‘Torn from Home’ to encourage audiences to reflect on how traumatic the enforced loss of a safe place to call home is for anyone experiencing persecution or genocide.