|Stand Up To Hatred: Wigan and Leigh’s Holocaust Memorial Day
A powerful play from students at Hesketh Fletcher.
AS a small child Irene Thomas was taken by her mother into a forest near the Polish border.
But there was no picnic or time for childhood games, instead the trip had much more sinister undertones.
Irene, and her half Jewish mother sought out the containers gathering sap from pine trees and tipped out the contents intended for use in the production of Cyclone B - a cyanide based insecticide used by the Nazis in the extermination camps during the Holocaust.
On Thursday, Irene now 68-years-old and living in Standish, Wigan relived those uncertain early years at two events in Wigan and Leigh as part of Holocaust Memorial Day.
Irene said: “My father and mother were both part of a clandestine resistance in Berlin during the war.
“Luckily my parents were not caught. People in Britain seem to get the impression all Germans were Nazis but they were not. There were a lot of small resistance groups all over Germany and Berlin was particularly active. They used a coded language to speak to each other and would refer to the Jews hiding as U-Boats because they were hidden under the surface.”
Organised by Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust (WLCT), this was the ninth annual Holocaust Memorial Day bringing together young and old to remember the victims of the Holocaust and other genocides.
Nationally, Holocaust Memorial Day is commemorated every January and marks the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1945.
This year the theme challenged people to “Stand Up To Hatred”. It urged all of us to look at our behaviour towards others: to understand how hate is directed against different minorities in Britain today and to explore how each of us can make our communities stronger.
Irene added: “It’s very important to stand up to hatred.
“Days like this help to raise awareness and that’s a good thing. Getting the young people involved and spreading the word is fantastic and I hope it reaches other schools.”
At Wigan town hall chief executive of WLCT, Rodney Hill, spoke about the need to “commemorate, educate and promote action in the UK”. He added: “We all have a responsibility to respect the human rights of all people in our communities and across the world.”
Students from the Deanery, St Peter’s and Hawkley Hall urged people to Stand Up To Hatred with a series of readings and Hesketh Fletcher High School performed a powerful and moving play about the concentration camps.
At Leigh’s Turnpike Centre Pete Gascoigne, executive director of Libraries, Heritage and Arts at Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust said: “Hate. We think we know it, but most of us will never face it. Hatred is a corrosive force able to ruin lives, wreck co operation, destroy communities, or races, or nations.”
He added: “The past is powerful, from it we can learn to protect ourselves and our communities from the forces of hatred.”
At both events Bill Hampson, director of the Epiphany Trust and Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust Board Trustee, spoke passionately about the “bonded” children of India forced to work long hours in enforced slavery to pay off family debts while Wigan mayor Cllr Rona Winkworth read the poem Holocaust by Barbara Sonek.
Prayers were said ahead of a two minute silence to remember those who had lost their lives.