World Holocaust Day makes us think

This morning was a time which was reflective but uplifting at the same time. At 9.30 I laid a wreath in our Garden of Peace in St John’s Gardens with Rabbi Mordechai Wollenberg. The sash on the wreath said, ‘Never Again’.

We then went to a Civic Event at the Town Hall hosted by the Lord Mayor. We had people from a number of faiths but predominantly the Jewish faith, children, speakers but most important of all – to give person testimony was a survivor of the last Kinder transport to leave Germany. She never saw her parents again. They became part of the ‘black snow’ of Auschwitz while her brother died within 5 weeks of the war’s end in Dachau.

Chanita Rodney left Germany at the age of 9 and came via London to Liverpool, a city she still thinks of as home and of which she has many happy memories although she now lives in Israel.

She described the horrors of her hiding in Germany, the terrors of the journey, the loneliness of her initial days waiting to be ‘claimed’ with a luggage label round her neck with her name on. Then she recalled how she was very happy in Liverpool where she received an education, made friends and considered her adopted family as her own. In fact she knows well Johnny Cohen an old friend of mine whose godparents were the ones who adopted her.

We heard four more stories of holocaust survivors read by students who were researching the period. We heard other research undertaken by both primary and secondary school pupils who had come to learn about and appreciate the horrors.

But the most important testimony came from Chanita. To hear at first hand a survivor is very important for my generation and those younger than me. This was someone who had endured. But not only had she endured she had triumphed. She found love and security in Liverpool and then with her husband. She has children and grandchildren and founded a charity dealing with mental health when one of her children became ill. She spoke with sadness but in a positive way. She wanted to ensure that her story and the story of the 6,000,000 who did not escape is never forgotten. Gary Everett of Homotopia reminded us that it was not only the Jews who went to the gas chamber. Lesbians and gays, mentally ill, blacks, Romas all were ill treated. Indeed anyone who did not fit an Aryan norm was considered to be at best sub human.

“Why do we bother?”  Some people ask. Most of them are not Holocaust deniers but just feel that we must move on. But as we were reminded today if we do not learn from history we repeat it. Genocide is not finished. Last year we had the Ambassador from Rwanda in Liverpool who reminded us how 1,000,000 people had dies in just 100 days in his Country. Nearer to home we had the appalling events of Kosovo and Serbia. Today what is happening in places like Syria and the Sudan is causing deaths as one faction, creed or sub creed takes out 1,400 years of historical dispute on another!

Perhaps the most important message for the future came from the young people who spoke and sang. Repeatedly we were told that we could all do our little bit to fight the ideas behind the holocaust which still are popular today. In particular that people who are different from us are worse than us. Racism is still clear in some people’s heads as I saw recently on a response to another of my blog postings. What about the UKIP councillor who thinks we have had heavy rain because the Government is allowing same sex marriages! What about the people who practice anti-Semitism throughout Europe with few checks because some of us are too scared or too lazy to oppose them?

Today made me reaffirm my belief in a liberal society in which “none shall be enslaved by ignorance, poverty or conformity”. Today I am as proud to be a liberal as I have ever been. I will not forget the holocausts. I will work to bring peace to my community, our city and the World however small a part I might be able to play in all three of them

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About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. UK representative on UCLG Finance Committee, Executive Bureau and World Council. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperon on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and three grandchildren.
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