On the evening of Sunday 28th January 2018, dignitaries, civic leaders and citizens from across Leicester and Leicestershire gathered in the Fraser Noble Hall of the University of Leicester to mark Holocaust Memorial Day 2018. The theme for 2018 was "the power of words," and a number of powerful reflections and poems were shared during the course of the evening. Following introductions from Tony Nelson, Chair of the Leicester HMD committee, the Lord Mayor of Leicester and the Chair of Leicester Council of Faiths, we heard from three young people who had themselves visited Auschwitz during the previous year. All spoke movingly of their own experiences, and how the visit had impacted their lives. They also took questions from the audience, and were eloquent in their explanations of how they had shared their learning with their contemporaries and pupils younger than them. They were passionate about the importance of sharing the lessons of history but also realistic in recognising that human beings often do not learn from their ancestors' mistakes, but simply repeat them.

Following a musical interlude from pupils of English Martyrs' Catholic School, we then heard the three runners up and the winning entry of the Paul Winstone Memorial Poetry Competition. All four pupils were from Moat Community College, who are to be congratulated on the quality of the entires.

The winning poem, by Gulmeena Syed:

I was forced into this unknown place,
Separated from my family.
All alone in this crowd of people,
People of the same religion as me.

We were dressed in white and black stripes.
surrounded by endless fallen fences
abandoned and left cold with nothing but our hopes.

The one day a suspicious sign appeared
It said, "cleanliness is a duty so don't forget to take a shower."
When did they show this type of sympathy,
when all they did was starve us and torture us?
When did they become so considerate?
When all they did was work us and control our lives.

They ordered us to strip our clothes along with our faith and
confined crowds of people to a small room with shower heads.
A heavy steel door slammed behind us,
some people fearful and started to pray.

The air slowly became thick and green,
I realised now what was happening
I slowly became suffocated, the limited oxygen disappearing.

I trembled in fear while others tried escaping
My belief dissolved completely, instead of thus unusual gas,
while the old, young and sick wept and drowned in their screams
Minutes passed by, the door did not open.

I fell to the ground among so many other people,
our bodies littered the ground smeared with blood, vomit and excrement.

I tried to survive but fumes took over
then all I knew was that we were no more.

After hearing this and three other excellent poems, we ere then treated to a musical interlude from the Leicester Zimbabwe Association Choir and an address from Professor Aubrey Newman. Professor Newman reminded us of the struggle Holocaust survivors have to find words adequate to describe their own experiences as well as the need for others to study and speak of the scale of what happened. He warned us of the dangers of silence and the moral imperative to speak out in the face of injustice and prejudice. Words are power, so think on what you say and why you are saying it, he cautioned us.

The evening closed with a vote of thanks from Lady Gretton, Lord-Lieutenant of Leicestershire, following which refreshments were shared by all. 

While there is much that is different from our present situation to that which led to the Holocaust, we can still benefit from learning the lessons of history. In February and March, the St Philip's Centre is hosting a discussion group, focusing on the book Darkness Over Germany. To find out more, click here