Watford US welcomes students to Holocaust Memorial event
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Thursday 5th February 2015

More than 160 year 9 to 13 pupils from Watford Boys’ Grammar, Watford Girls’ Grammar, Hemel Hempstead School and Cavendish School, Hemel Hempstead, along with students from Watford’s West Herts College, marked Holocaust Memorial Day at an event hosted by Watford Synagogue. This year’s commemorations have particular significance as they mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp where over 1.1m people were killed.  

The students and their teachers attended an educational workshop on Monday 2 February and were later joined by Watford MP Richard Harrington and other dignitaries, firefighters from Watford’s Green Watch and representatives from Hertfordshire Constabulary’s Hate Crime Unit.  Together, they had the rare opportunity to listen to Holocaust survivors Eve Kugler and Susan Pollack recount their personal stories firsthand.  “I have benefited a lot from the talk you gave today as I didn’t know much about the Holocaust before,” said one teenager from Hemel Hempstead School afterwards. “I hope people continue to share this message and that no one else will have to experience such discrimination in other generations.”

Then for the first time as part of Watford’s HMD event, Eric Eugene Murangwa, a football-loving survivor of the 1994 Rwandan genocide in which an estimated 800,000 Tutsis were slaughtered by their Hutu countrymen, shared his own experiences. By highlighting this tragic event that took place just 21 years ago Eric’s story demonstrates that racism, discrimination, persecution and intolerance are still prevalent today. He showed that the lessons of the Holocaust, in which six million Jews across Europe were systematically murdered simply because they were Jews, are relevant to people of all faiths and races worldwide. 

One student commented,“This experience has taught me how we are not learning from previous mistakes, for instance the Rwandan genocide. I have realised today that it is our generation’s duty to pass along stories like yours and prevent genocide or discrimination in the future.”

All those present were clearly moved by the survivors’ stories. One Watford Boys’ Grammar pupil remarked, “If we forget it is more likely to happen again. I will make sure I carry on your message so even when all the survivors have passed on we will not forget.” 

Each of the day’s sessions concluded with closing reflections from Watford Synagogue’s Rabbi Ephraim Levine, a minute’s silence and the lighting of a memorial candle. 

Rabbi Levine explained, “It is a sad fact that race, religion, gender and disability are still used to justify prejudice and discrimination today. The aim of these Holocaust Memorial Day events is to ensure that the horrendous crimes of racism and victimisation committed during the Holocaust and other more recent genocides (like that which took place in Rwanda) are neither forgotten, nor repeated.”

Watford Synagogue’s event was part of a bigger programme of Northwood Holocaust Memorial Day activities involving almost 3,000 pupils representing 49 schools from Dacorum, Hertfordshire, the London Boroughs of Harrow and Hillingdon, Bedfordshire and Berkshire.  Now in its 14th year, the programme aims to educate students about Nazi atrocities and make a connection between the Holocaust and subsequent genocides (such as that which occurred in Rwanda) and invite students to consider their personal responsibility to promote tolerance in today’s world. 

Any school or college wishing to register their interest in taking part in Watford Synagogue’s Holocaust Memorial Day event next year should email secretary@watfordsynagogue.org.uk