Friday, 5 February, 2016

The focal point for Northern Ireland's Holocaust Memorial Day activities took place in the Island Arts Centre in Lisburn on the evening of Wednesday 27 January 2016, the 71st Anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. 

The commemoration was hosted by Junior Ministers Emma Pengelly and Jennifer McCann from the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister. An audience of over 300 people attended the solemn and respectful occasion, including members of the Jewish community, representatives from a range of faith communities, minority ethnic and other groups. The keynote speaker was Tomi Reichental, a Holocaust survivor who was liberated from Bergen-Belsen concentration camp on the 15 April 1945. 

Pictured: Tomi Reichental, Cantor Shulman, Councillor Beckett, Junior Minister Pengelly, Junior Minister McCann, Shoshana Appleton & Tali her granddaughter, Rabbi Singer

The event linked with similar events around the world in an international day of remembrance for the victims of the Holocaust and of the genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur, and followed the national theme for HMD 2016 set by HMDT: Don’t stand by.

Councillor Thomas Beckett, the first Mayor of Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council, opened proceedings by giving a formal address in which he welcomed everyone. Also speaking at the event, Junior Minister Jennifer McCann said: ‘On Holocaust Memorial Day we remember all those who have suffered due to racism and hatred. We must ensure the victims of the Holocaust and subsequent genocides are never forgotten, and that future generations learn from the mistakes of the past.'

‘This commemoration reinforces that we each have a responsibility to reflect on the kind of world we want to live in, and stand up for equality and justice for all.  We must play our part in creating a society of equals, which values tolerance, diversity and freedom, and challenges oppression in all its forms.’

Junior Minister Emma Pengelly said: ‘When we see the developing situation in the Middle East it is appropriate to say that the Don’t stand by theme of this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration is as relevant today as at any time in the past. A lesson from the Holocaust in Europe during the Second World War is that there is a time when people must not stand by and turn their backs on their neighbours but must confront tyranny. As we remember all those affected by the Holocaust, and subsequent genocides, we must commit ourselves never to forget and do what is right in the face of tyranny. We must not stand by.’

The audience at the ceremony were shown HMDT's film for HMD 2016, featuring Holocaust survivor Susan Pollack telling a unique story of surviving genocide for the first time. 

Tomi Reichental, a Holocaust survivor, shared his story with the audience, having been imprisoned in Bergen-Belsen when he was 9 years old and loosing 35 members of his family during the Holocaust. For many years Tomi was unable to speak about his experiences but since his retirement he has dedicated his life to telling his story, to ensure that the horrors of the Holocaust are never forgotten.

Actor Seán O’Hare performed a monologue from a play entitled ‘The Suitcase’ by Belfast-based journalist and writer Jane Coyle. The play, which moves between modern day Belfast and 1930s Vienna, was premiered at the Belfast synagogue in October 2015 during the Ulster Bank Belfast International Arts Festival, where it won the Audience Award. In the chosen extract, the character of Leo Edelmann recalls a joyous acquaintance with a young dancer in the terrible surroundings of Terezin concentration camp.

The formal acts of remembrance followed. During the Statement of Commitment representatives from groups persecuted during the Holocaust, including representatives from the Council of Christians & Jews, the Disability, Jewish, Roma, and LGBT communities and a Trade Unionist read relevant paragraphs.

Pictured: Junior Ministers Pengelly & McCann, Shoshana Appleton & her granddaughter Tali 

Shoshana Appleton and her granddaughter Tali lit the remembrance candle in memory of those that perished during the Holocaust. Cantor Alwyn Shulman from the Dublin Jewish Community sang a prayer for the repose of the souls of the departed in Hebrew, after which Rabbi Singer read the prayer in English. Dr Dennis Coppel read the ‘We Remember Them’ prayer and Rabbi Singer blew the Shofar to symbolise the end of the formal act of commemoration.

To close the event An Munia Tober, the Irish Travellers Ladies Choir, sang the Labi Siffre song ‘Something inside so strong’. 

Yad Vashem ‘No Child’s Play’

The Yad Vashem ‘No Child’s Play’ photographic exhibition was also on display at The Island Arts Centre venue during the event, courtesy of the Council of Christians and Jews (Belfast Branch), which provided people with a further opportunity to appreciate the human aspect of the Holocaust.

‘Back to the Future’ Project

As part of HMDT's Flames for humanity's heroes project, a group of 20 victims and survivors of the Northern Ireland conflict created a stained glass window to honour Irene Sendler, a Polish Catholic nurse, who helped more than 2,000 children escape from the Warsaw ghettos during WWII. After the war, Irene helped reunite some with their families, having buried their names in a jar under an apple tree.

The project entitled ‘Back to the Future’ was co-ordinated by the Institute for Conflict Research with the support of the Victim and Survivor Service, with the stained glass window travelling to London's Guildhall for the UK Commemorative Event for HMD 2016. Images of the artwork were also featured on the front cover of the official UK Ceremony programme.

The Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister provided funding to support this activity.