This year, Interfaith Scotland worked in partnership with East Dunbartonshire Council to arrange the National Holocaust Memorial Day commemorative event for Scotland, which took place in Bishopbriggs on 26 January 2017.
On Thursday 26 January, candles were lit at Bishopbriggs Academy, in front of 300 guests on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day. Scotland's Deputy First Minister John Swinney highlighted the dangers of denying fundamental human freedoms and allowing bigotry to flourish. Provost Una Walker of East Dunbartonshire spoke of how commemorating the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz helps the world to remember everyone affected by the Holocaust, as well as other terrible genocides around the world in places such as Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.
The key note speakers for 2017 were Saskia Tepe and Umutesi Stewart.
Umutesi was born near the small city of Gisenyi, Rwanda, in 1984. When the genocide engulfed the country in 1994 she fled her home with her brother and two younger sisters. She spent the next four years on a dangerous march for survival through the jungles of Congo, during which time her brother was murdered. Umutesi has rebuilt her life and now lives in Scotland. She explains ‘we should not be slaves of our past but learn from it to shape a better future’.
Saskia Tepe is the daughter of a Holocaust survivor and refugee. Her mother, Brigitte, was a Sudeten German who experienced the tribulations of WWII during the Holocaust and again during the ethnic cleansing that occurred in the former Sudetenland between 1945 and 1947. Brigitte only told Saskia the barest minimum about her war time experiences. It was not until after she died that Saskia was able to piece together the remainder of her mother's story, and understand and fully appreciate the choices Brigitte was forced to make. Saskia's memoir Surviving Brigitte's Secrets was begun for cathartic reasons. Once she came to terms with her loss, she realised how important it was to share her and Brigitte's remarkable stories to overcome the deep emotional wounds of war and its aftermath, and rebuild their lives in the UK. Saskia and Umutesi both shared their powerful stories at the National Memorial event.
The evening also included performances from young people from across East Dunbartonshire, interpreting this year's Holocaust Memorial Day theme - How can life go on? From poetry, to dance, to music, everyone was deeply moved by the young students passionate and powerful performances. Also, thought provoking art exhibitions interpreting this year's theme were on display with contributions from Low Moss Prison and East Dunbartonshire students.
Additional HMD activities
In total, Saskia and Umutesi spent six days speaking to hundreds of school pupils in Glasgow, East Dunbartonshire, Edinburgh and East Renfrewshire, as well as visiting and speaking at Low Moss prison and holding workshops at a youth conference at St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art in Glasgow. This packed programme of events and workshops allowed our speakers to tell their stories of how life can go on, giving many of us hope for the future in these uncertain times.
As part of the commemorations, Interfaith Scotland also worked in partnership with Glasgow University to host an Interfaith Peace Service in the University Chapel on Sunday 22 January.