Holocaust Memorial Day
With this ‘call to arms’ in mind, Trudy Gold, our Executive Director of Education and Holocaust Studies and Jerry Gotel, our Overseas Director, have, together with the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research been facilitating a remarkable three-day seminar focusing on ‘Combating the Rise of Anti-Semitism and Racism in the Ukraine and Eastern Europe in the 21st Century’.
In close consultation with Professor Jon Silverman, Geoff Martin, Archant Group Editor and Tanya Gold, we brought together ten journalists from Poland, Hungary, Latvia and the Ukraine and experienced journalists, editors and academics from the UK. In a series of sessions across three days they have explored and discussed the nature of prejudice, whether the press has a duty of care, how to combat prejudice, how to engage fellow journalists in their own countries, and how to go about influencing opinion formers.
Our professional contributors included Jonathan Freedland, William Horsley, Rex Bloomstein and Simon Kelner who led discussions on topics including Confronting the Legacy of the Holocaust, The BBC and Objectivity, and The Media and Prejudice in Eastern Europe. Click here to read Simon Kelner’s impressions of the seminar and the London Jewish Cultural Centre in yesterday’s Independent Online.
The impact of the seminar has been profound. One participant, Varvara Zhluktenko, a former foreign politics reporter who now works at the International Organisation for Migration in the Ukraine, works on promoting tolerance and counteracting xenophobia in all its forms, including anti-Semitism. She said ‘As a result of this seminar, I’ve deepened my understanding of how and why anti-Semitism spread… It won’t change the way I work, but it certainly will make me more confident in what I am doing.’ Commenting on what struck her most in the three-day programme, she remarked upon the haunting familiarity of anti-Semitic language taken from the British press in the 19th century, ‘Today, you can find the exact same statements in the Ukrainian press about new migrants coming from Africa and Asia. Nothing has changed, the myths are the same, and we still have to find effective ways of combating the stereotypes, the fear and the hatred.’
We know that this work matters and that there is still much work to be done to counter racism in Eastern Europe. We will stay in touch with the participants and monitor their progress and we look forward to seeing how they will use what they have taken away from this extraordinary week.
Earlier this week, the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, participated in the annual Holocaust Memorial Ceremony at City Hall on Tuesday 24th January. Students from Ashmole Academy, which participated in the Holocaust Educational Trust’s Lessons from Auschwitz Project, shared their reflections on a recent visit to the concentration camp. Speaking in front of the 250-strong crowd, Natasha O’Leary, a student who took part in the trip said, ‘I am part of the last generation who will be able to hear about the Holocaust from those people who lived through it, and who can speak about it’. ‘It is my duty,’ Natasha went on to add, ‘to ensure that my generation, and future generations will remember the Holocaust, and understand its importance. We must speak out for those who don’t have a voice’.
This morning, we are holding our own annual in-house Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration together with Holocaust survivors and guests. Trudy will introduce this year’s theme and invite readings from the Mayor of Barnet, Doug Krikler (UJIA), Elaine Kerr (Norwood), Simon Morris (Jewish Care), Michael Newman (AJR), Richard Benson (CST) and actor, Saul Reichlin. The ceremony will also include music by Bloch played by Gemma Rosefield, songs by the Akiva School choir, the lighting of memorial candles by pupils from Mathilda Marks Kennedy School and the El Moele Rachamim sung by Jerry Gotel. It is always a haunting, thought provoking ceremony and reminds us of the work we do in schools with survivors that lies at the heart of the LJCC’s educational programme.
As we look to the year ahead, the London Jewish Cultural Centre will continue to speak up for those who do not have a voice, running courses and hosting events to combat prejudice and racism wherever it is found. Next week we are screening the festival award-winning film,The Last Survivor, with a panel discussion featuring Nikki Levitan, David Russell, and Judith Hassan OBE. And we will be welcoming Mithal Al-Alusi, a founding Member of the Iraqi Nation Party and recently an Iraqi MP, to the Centre to discuss the question, Iraq in Crisis? He is truly a man who has sacrificed much in his battle against oppression yet continues to fight for what he believes is right. Please join us.