This morning my Thought for the Day slot on BBC Radio Bristol was a serious one. It is Holocaust Memorial Day and also the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the death camp at Auschwitz in 1945.
Jewish humour is renowned; but it didn’t feel like a time for jokes today. It felt like a time to hear important stories.
Jonathan from Radio Bristol met a remarkable woman called Hella Hewison. In 1939, at the age of 14, she was evacuated from Berlin and came to Britain via the “Kindertransport” to live with a family in Knowle. Her parents were murdered in the Holocaust. Hella kept many of the letters her family sent to her, including the last letter from her father and a translation of the instructions the Nazis gave to her mother, telling her she was to be taken away.
Hear her story here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02hrhg1
I was also struck by a piece that journalist Hugo Rifkind wrote for the Holocaust Educational Trust. (in fact I quoted him in my Thought) Read his blog about why it is important to remember http://www.het.org.uk/index.php/blog/entry/holocaust-memorial-day-2015-hugo-rifkind?template=het_blog
After powerful words from both these people, my Thought for the Day feels inconsequential. It’s hard to truly reflect on the horror of the Holocaust in less than two minutes, but I guess you can explore why it’s important to continue remembering. Memories of visiting Auschwitz a few years ago flooded back and, coupled with talking about my mum, made it one of the harder Thoughts to deliver.
(I’ve slightly changed Hugo Rifkind’s quote so that the bit about remembering at the beginning of his last paragraph is at the end of mine – apologies Hugo)
Thought for the Day, January 27th 2015:
How do you remember difficult events?
Last week someone asked me what I could remember about my mum, who died when I was fairly young.
I had to think about what to say. Because I was only nine when she passed away, I had to be honest and reply that I do not remember much. I do not remember many specific conversations or experiences.
That seems sad, but what helps is that I have many many photographs of us together.
I have pieces of embroidery that she created and things that belonged to her.
Most importantly, I have stories – anecdotes and descriptions about my mum, passed on by other family members and friends. Through all these channels, I can remember.
It may feel difficult to remember today, on Holocaust Memorial Day.
It is hard to think back to the dreadful events which led to millions of deaths and sometimes we would rather forget. That’s why we need stories like Hella’s – to bring distant events much closer to home.
Trying to pretend that events in the past did not happen betrays the experiences of those who died and those who survived.
We need the power of these stories to remind us what humanity is capable of in its worst moments so that we can choose better ways.
In the words of journalist Hugo Rifkind: “To remember is to remain aware that we, as humans, balance on the very lip of the unspeakable, always far closer to toppling than we might wish to admit. This is the point of remembering the Holocaust.”