Things I didn’t expect from a Holocaust Remembrance memorial
4th February 2021
I wasn’t anticipating hearing stories of grandparents and long-lost family members whose experiences, and letters of Holocaust experiences, would make me feel like they could be a mutual friend. A person who you just missed passing by, instead of a chapter in a history textbook. You wouldn’t expect multiple members of the local Gloucestershire community to have family stories and memories of Holocaust survivors or victims. I thought of my Grandma who passed several years ago and consider things I now wish I could ask her.
On the 27th of January 2021 I attended an online Holocaust Remembrance Memorial event hosted by the University of Gloucestershire Chaplaincy and Cheltenham Borough Council. After a long day of fussing over the details of my very unextraordinary day I had failed to take a moment to think about what I was about to do. Honestly, it was the final part of my daily to-do list and I was surprised to be left in tears when it was over.
When we think about the Holocaust we often think about the distance, the progress and change that that stands between us and it. That distance makes us feel safe. That kind of thing would never happen to us. It’s a textbook, a documentary, a school trip. It’s your first time watching The Pianist and being brought to tears. I became so aware that the witness accounts of our family members and their stories are slipping away as the years pass by.
Despite being a big reader since an early age, no poetry read has ever hit me quite as hard as the reading of Elie Wiesel’s Never Shall I Forget. No words will haunt me like ‘Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes. Never shall I forget those things, even were I condemned to live as long as God Himself.’
As someone who believes in God, I thought about how much trauma and pain it would take to crush a person’s faith in God?
I was shocked at the part of the memorial that talked about anti-Semitism today and the ways it’s overlooked. I was surprised I didn’t know about the anti-Semitic graffiti in Cheltenham. I remembered walking through Cheltenham and seeing ‘polish scum’ graffitied on the bridge. Being Polish myself, it stung a little bit, but I brushed it off. I wasn’t prepared for how much a Holocaust Remembrance Day memorial would remind me that racism in a lot of ways, is still so prevalent.
For the first time in this pandemic, an online event felt so real.
This article was written by Alicja Shannon, a Journalism student at UoG who is currently on a part time placement with the Chaplaincy team.