Coventry sends a message in fight against intolerance

By Marcus Dysch, January 29, 2009
Hat’s nice: Bethany Dewar on message

Hat’s nice: Bethany Dewar on message

An emotional service in Coventry on Sunday attended by over 100 Shoah survivors served as the national commemoration of Holocaust Memorial Day.

Reflecting the government’s commitment to HMD, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith was among the audience of 800 at the Belgrade Theatre and Communities Secretary Hazel Blears was one of the speakers, pledging to combat extremism in her Salford community and beyond.

“I will give my all to stop the Far Right,” she declared. “I will work hard to ensure Britain is a place where all are safe.

“Today, we remember and honour the past. Let us commit to building a better future.”

Reflecting on the rise of the Nazis in Germany, Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks reminded the audience: “The Jews had friends, neighbours and colleagues who may have raised their voices. Some did, most did not. We must all take a stand whenever we see cases of hate or prejudice in any form.”

In a poignant contribution, cantor Rudi Leavor sang memorial prayer El Male Rachamim in honour of his grandmothers and cousins who were Holocaust victims. Lara and Poppy Franks, granddaughters of survivor Regina Franks, spoke of how she settled in Coventry after the war and devoted her life to others as a social worker.

Schoolchildren and theatre groups performed specially composed pieces focusing on the HMD theme of “Stand up to Hatred”.

Following the ceremony, survivors lined up to share their harrowing experiences with Ms Blears.

“It is particularly important that every generation has the knowledge and understanding about what happened so they can translate it into their own lives,” she said.

“With the rise in antisemitic attacks [in recent weeks], it is important to stand up to that sort of behaviour, say it is unacceptable and support the community at this time.”

HMD Trust chair Dr Stephen Smith said: “It is vitally important we take this opportunity to encourage communities and individuals to remember the lessons of the Holocaust, Nazi persecution and more recent genocides around the world.”

Others at the ceremony included Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor, the ambassadors of Germany, Poland, Rwanda and Croatia, and the leader of the Muslim Parliament of Britain, Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui.

Coventry also staged a number of supplementary events in which the city’s youth have been prominent.

In a specially commissioned play, Cat and Mouse, 50 pupils recite diary extracts and testimonies from children interned at Auschwitz and other Nazi camps.

Secondary schools have been participating in The Chain, a project examining the sequence of events leading up to the Shoah.

Members of Jewish Care’s Holocaust Survivors’ Centre were thanked at a reception for their involvement in the programme.

On Saturday, locals joined a “Stand up to Hatred” walk which culminated at the ruins of the cathedral destroyed by wartime bombing.

“We are not a perfect city, but we do work together,” explained Lee House, HMD’s artistic director.

“A lot of the groups came together especially for the event. That will forge lasting relationships.

“The city centre was packed on Saturday when a number of the [HMD-related] exhibits were on display. Coventry is one of those cities that rises to the occasion. People have got behind everything we have asked them to do.”

Last updated: 10:49am, January 29 2009