Holocaust Memorial Day


This is a record of a day in which many Christchurch people, young and not-so-young, came together to remember those millions who suffered in the holocaust, and think of those who are suffering even now.

There is little of my own writing here. Instead, just descriptions and pictures. It is not in programme order, just a recollection of some of the items. Apologies if there are any mis-spellings: there are some names I don’t know, and some of the words are in Hebrew or French. Apologies, too, to Betty. Her poem was excellent. Unfortunately, due to my ineptitude I pressed the wrong button for the video!

Holocaust Memorial Day, Christchurch

The programme (click for larger version)

Opening prayers and wreath-laying

A Jewish prayer

A Hebrew prayer (click for larger version)

The experience of Henry Schachter, a local resident

Henry Schachter

Henry Schachter (no larger picture)

I am a holocaust survivor. My parents didn’t survive, but before I start I just want to say I was in London on Thursday for the main Holocaust Memorial ceremony where dignitaries and actors and actresses and anybody who was doing their part, and I found this little ceremony we had just now in a cold little field here in Christchurch was so touching and personal. I was very very moved by this. Thank you to the organisers very much.

The theme of this year’s Holocaust is THE POWER OF WORDS. Well we know that Hitler certainly knew how to play with words. Fortunately we also had Churchill, who also knew how to manipulate words. It was Joseph Goebbels, the propaganda minister in the Nazi Party who said, if you say a lie convincingly three times and nobody objects or challenges it, it becomes the truth. This is what happened during the Nazi build-up in Germany. It’s well worth remembering that Hitler only got into power by 40% of the vote. That meant that even through all that propaganda and rantings and ravings and demonstrations and Hitler Youth and everything else that was going on, 60% of the people still didn’t vote for him. It’s worth remembering that.

Very briefly, because I can’t cram six years into fifteen minutes, my parents were born in Poland, in Galicia, but because of the rise of nationalism, anti-Semitism was starting to turn violent, and both my grandparents decided they had to get out. Things were getting too dangerous and before the First World War they looked around and decided that the obvious place to go was one of the most open, democratic, welcoming societies in Europe. That was Germany. So they decided to go to Germany. My mother’s side went to Frankfurt, my father to Berlin. They grew up as normal German citizens. They were religious, but nevertheless they mixed with all the Germans around them and they felt very welcomed, and responsible German citizens.

Of course after the war the Wehrmacht came back, three million soldiers returned to no employment. They didn’t understand how they’d lost the war: they’d been told they were winning the war. They had no jobs to go back to, six million unemployed, so it’s not surprising that the message of the Nazis, that the resuscitation of Germany would take place under their wing, attracted a lot of followers. Eventually, by 1933 when Hitler actually came to power and things really became very bad for Jewish people, some of my family managed to escape. My father’s family in particular, three brothers and one sister, went to British-occupied Palestine, and my mother’s family in 1938, two brothers and two sisters, came here. They were allowed to come only as au-pairs or theology students with a one year visa. You couldn’t just travel. As the winds of war came across Europe people didn’t want anybody, any immigrants, no-one. It was very very hard.

My father and mother, living in Berlin, were in business with my grandparents, They were ladies’ coat manufacturers, and as such they had a factory. So they were loath to leave, but a lot of Jewish people unfortunately had this habit of being extremely optimistic and they thought, ‘Surely now he’s in power it’s not going to be so bad, all this ranting and raving was just to get into power.’ So a lot of people were optimistic. But they’d stayed a little bit too long and eventually they’d had to leave and the only place they could go to was back to Poland because they were still Polish passport holders. My father was extremely reluctant to go, and he knew that Hitler had some other interests in Poland and that something was going to happen. They went to Belgium to try to get a business visa for me and my mother to join him in Belgium.

It was impossible to get a visa in Poland, to any country. He was there one week, and sure enough, all his predictions came true. It was the first of September, and Germany invaded Poland. There I was with my mother. I was one year old, stuck in Tarnow, very close to the Czech border. But my father, once again, had pre-empted the Nazis, and he’d arranged that if we managed to get to Krakow we would have false papers and we would possibly be able to get out of Poland. If we could get to the Ardennes forest on the Belgium border there would be a smuggler who would take us into Belgium. To cut a long story short, after an amazing journey my mother and I did manage to get to the Ardennes. At first the smuggler didn’t want to take us in. There were another twenty people wanting to go in, and he was concerned that I would give the game away by crying.

Anyway, we got to Belgium, and for four months we were safe. Thank God, we had finished with the Nazis. Of course, in May 1940, using the same route as we had gone through, the Nazis invaded Belgium, Holland and Denmark. Once again we were on the run. This time we tried to get a boat, but we couldn’t. No boats were there, so there was no option but to go back to Brussels. There was nothing else we could do.

Fortunately, unlike in the east, where they used specially-trained SS Einsatzgruppen to round up Jews and kill them where they stood, in the west they were much more careful. The Belgian and Dutch citizens were not going to take too kindly to seeing Jews dragged out of their flats, so they were more circumspect. Provided you wore a yellow Star of David and registered with the local police, you were safe for a while. Obviously, knowing what had been taking place in Poland my parents were very dubious about this whole thing and they decided to go into hiding, as did thousand of Jews in Belgium, with the help of tens of thousands of Christians. Edmund Burke once said, The only thing required for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing. Well, this certainly didn’t apply to the people of Belgium. The good people of Belgium did a lot. Three thousand children were saved alone by Belgian families, who took a great, great personal risk hiding Jewish children.

Henry Schachter

Henry Schachter as a boy (no larger picture)

Anyway, we went into hiding and we were in a warehouse with about twelve people, very much like Anne Frank, it was insulated with packing cases. We lived there for over a year and my mother was going mad. How do you keep a child quiet during the day and only cry during the night?  My father used to go to work. He needed to do something so he didn’t use his Star of David and he didn’t take his certificate and identity papers as on the papers was stamped Jude, so that anybody could identify them as being Jewish. It was forbidden to travel without your certificate: on one occasion he was arrested because he wasn’t carrying them. There was a fine or prison sentence, and he didn’t have the money for a fine, so he spent ten days in Saint Giles prison. After this he came back and told my mother, ‘You know, this is very very dangerous. A lot of Jews are being picked up in the streets now. We have to do something about Ariel.’ Ariel was my Hebrew name. They’d heard about a Christian woman, Andree Boulene [sp?]. She was twenty years old and ran a little nursery school and took in Jewish children and found, with the help of the underground, homes amongst Christians where they could be taken. One day I went in as Ariel Schafter. Three years old, a Jewish boy, and four days later I came out as Henri Defay [sp?]. New certificates, new ration cards, new family, new religion!

However, my parents were actually arrested in April 1944. The invasion of Normandy took place in June 1944, but it might as well have been a world away, for what difference it made to the Nazis and the Jewish people. So they were arrested and sent to a camp in Belgium and then finally to Auschwitz. They survived in Auschwitz for seven months, going through all the selections. Usually every month they had to be selected in case they weren’t fit for work any more. My mother worked in the kitchens in Birkenau, and my father was in a building squad, and for seven months they survived that, until the Russians started approaching and the Nazis tried to disguise the camp, blew up the crematoria and everything. But they still needed slave labourers, and the next thing was that my parents were sent on the death marches – and they were death marches.

My father finished up in Flossenburg in Bavaria, right across Czechoslovakia. My mother, like Anne Frank and many others, was sent to Belsen. There, three days before the British forces liberated the camp, she had contracted typhoid, which was raging at that time, and she passed away in the arms of a woman who told me the story. She said to me, ‘I told your mother, I held her in my arms. I said, “Paula, we’re nearly free.”’ But she was so exhausted from the treatment she had had that she passed away. My father told his friend, who told me in Belgium after the war, that he had said to him, ‘I’m going to die tomorrow unless I get out.’ So he gave him half his ration and next day my father took the opportunity to make a run for it in the woods surrounding Flossenburg, but the guards saw him and shot him. That was the end of my mother and father.

I, on the other hand, was relatively safe and sound, although there was a great danger. I didn’t go to school, I didn’t have friends, and I was a Christian, I was a strong Catholic. I didn’t know where anybody was, or any members of my family.

The way I was found was quite miraculous. My uncle, who had been in hiding, had been in the diamond business, and he wanted to go to Antwerp to see who was left of his colleagues. He got on a tram to go to the station and after about ten minutes he realised he was going in the wrong direction. So he got off the tram, crossed the road, and waited for a tram to go the other way. And as he was standing there he saw this little boy skipping along the street: ‘La guerre finis, La guerre finis. The war’s over, how wonderful. And he was looking and thinking, oh isn’t it wonderful, even little children so happy. And just a that moment the little boy looked at him, ran across the road, arms outstretched: ‘Papa, papa!’ And he jumped into his arms and my uncle said, ‘Arrier?’ (My Hebrew name, shortened.) And it was me. I thought it was my father, because I remember my father, quite short, and the empathy in his eyes when he looked at me, and ‘Yes, this is my father.’

And that’s how I was found. If that isn’t a miracle I don’t know what is. Eventually I came to England, it took nine months until the government realised I wasn’t an enemy alien, but I came and joined my family here and was fortunate enough to live a happy and successful life. Thank you very much for listening.

Henry Schachter

Speaking on Monday, at the Captain’s Club. From the video – no larger version

A talk by Josephine Jackson

She began by reminding us about this year’s Holocaust theme: The power of words.

‘I think the words you have just heard from Henry are very powerful.

I will talk about Kindertransport. Kinder is German for children. This was the rescue of children from Nazi Europe before the war. Hitler marched into various European countries. In 1933 the anti-Jewish action started, then in 1935 came the Nuremberg laws which included anti-Jewish laws. They weren’t allowed to go to public swimming pools, sit in the park, eventually they were not allowed to have a radio, and even not to have pets. The Nazis came and took children’s pets away, and shot them in front of them. Then Austria, Anschluss, the annexation of Austria, in March 1938, when Austria became a Nazi country.

Then a special night, known as Kristallnacht, which means the night of the broken glass, on the 9th and 10th November 1938. There was a Nazi-orchestrated pogrom throughout Nazi-occupied Europe. So that was Germany, Austria, Sudetenland (north-west Czechoslovakia). Jewish properties, synagogues, etc, were set alight. Jews were just murdered in the street or taken prisoner. On that night 195 synagogues were burnt down throughout Nazi-occupied Europe. Orphanages were burnt down, Jewish businesses were attacked, and that made the Jewish people of Nazi Europe very aware that things were really bad. As a result of that the Council of German Jewry sent a deputation to this country.

Josephine Jackson

Josephine Jackson. (No larger picture – taken from video)

I have to say I’ve put on this yellow star because as Henry described you could be imprisoned or even shot for not wearing your yellow star.

So the Council of German Jewry met with Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister. They had come up with a plan and asked this country, this government, to take in children from Nazi-occupied Europe, to save at least the children, children up to 17 years of age. That was on the 15th November.

I’m very proud to say I’m a British Jew because this was the only country that said yes and didn’t give any limit of numbers of children. America didn’t want to know, Australia didn’t want to know, Canada didn’t want to know, these huge countries.

The government agreed to take children. There wasn’t a limit on the numbers but – and there is a big but – there had to be a £50 bond for each child. We’re talking about 1938, and £50 was an awful lot of money. But they were going to let the children is as transmigrants. They only needed a travel permit, which made it very much easier to get a permit. It wasn’t only Jewish children, but it was mainly Jewish children. Any non-Aryans, which means they weren’t blue-eyed, blond Germans were, to Hitler, verboten, forbidden. There were gypsies, there were homosexuals, there were people of different backgrounds who were persecuted including people with disability. They didn’t want anybody who wasn’t perfect.

So as a result of this agreement by the government the former Prime Minister, Lord Baldwin, made a radio appeal, on the 8th of December. That is exactly a month after Kristallnacht, which was very quick when you consider how long legislation takes nowadays. The radio appeal, to the British public, was to aid the bringing over of the children in the Kindertransport. In six months, £522,000 was raised. That was an awful lot of money in 1938. You have to be proud to be British when you hear that.

All sorts of local committees were set up, and they were fundraising and trying to open hostels and find homes for the children, to find people who would a look after them and take them in. I became particularly interested in Kindertransport because I was approached by a group of survivors when I used to live in Leeds. They were worried. As you can gather, I’m known to be able to talk, and was one of the people approached to tell the story because, going back to 2000, the holocaust survivors were beginning to leave us.

I particularly chose Kindertransport because I was born in Sunderland. Sunderland had a large and very observant Jewish community, and the Rabbi had gone to all the Jewish homes asking them to take in children. I’m the youngest of six, so my mother had no chance of being able to take in anybody. I remember my mother telling me, “The Rabbi said to everybody, if you don’t take them in these children will die.” He knew. So two of my aunts took in Kindertransport. One of them Paula, who came from Vienna, became very close to me, and I was her bridesmaid when she married.

When they left they were only able to take small cases, no valuables. When the Nazis came on the trains they searched their luggage, turned stuff upside-down, stamped on some of their precious toys, just to be mean. So you can imagine children, on their own, not knowing what’s going on, and they were wearing labels so that when they got to the other end people would know who they were.

The first train left Berlin on the 1st of December, with 196 orphans, from an orphanage which had been destroyed on Kristallnacht. The second train left on the 8th of December, from Vienna. On that train were two people who now live in Bournemouth and are very prominent members of the community.

So what was going to happen, how were we going to get these children over? Committees were started, and people of all different backgrounds helped to get these children out. Not only Jewish people, church groups – the Quakers were particularly active – trade unions and individuals.

Nicholas Winton

Nicholas Winton with one of the rescued children (no larger picture)

There is one particular individual who I have to mention. He was a very special man, who died in 2015 at the age of 106: Nicholas Winton. As a young British man he’d gone on holiday with a friend. He came from quite a wealthy background, and they were going skiing. They’d gone to Czechoslovakia, and his friend had gone on ahead.

‘Nicholas, you’ve got to come, you’ve got to see what’s going on here.’ There’s panic. No-one is organising anything, and children are wanting to get on this Kindertransport, and there is nobody to help. So he and his friend, and other amazing people who came forward, got together and organised transport, even forged documents to get them out. He came back to England, even though he was working as a stockbroker in the day, every spare minute he was trying to get permits, trying to find people who would take the children. He and his friend were responsible for saving 669 children. You may ask what can one person do? Well, with a will, obviously they can do a lot.

I have actually spoken to Nicholas Winton. I give these talks very regularly, and I’ve a very good Christian friend who told me that she had a friend who lived in the same town as Sir Nicholas Winton. It was about four years ago, so he was well into his hundreds. He had a group of carers, and this lady’s friend was one of them. She said that she had told him about you giving these talks about Kindertransport. She said he was very interested, and has given me his phone number and wants you to ring him. I was absolutely thrilled at the idea of speaking to this hero. I did phone him up. He was already quite frail, but he said, “I want to give you a quote. ‘It is not what people believe that matters. It is what they do.’”

I have now to cut this short: Ten thousand children came to this country. I have to say –it’s very hard to say – there were six million Jews. And I know there were other people who were murdered but as far as Hitler was concerned, he wanted to get rid of, annihilate all the Jews, and he managed to murder six million, a third of the world’s Jewish community. 1.5 million were children, from babies to young teens. That was 90% of Nazi Europe’s children.

So this country helped save ten thousand, and that ten thousand is now thousands upon thousands. One of them, I’m sure he won’t mind if I mention his name, Otto Hutter, has twenty five great grandchildren. He says, when I ask him, how many, he says, I’ve lost count, I haven’t enough fingers and toes!

That is due to this country. Thank you very much for listening. Thank you for coming.

Reverend Canon Charles Stewart

There have been many books written about what happened in the holocaust, and historians have many theories. I’ve not read them all. I’ve read some, but I want to take it further back. I’m speaking to the children from Highcliffe St Mark’s and The Priory School. One of the things you may well be asking yourselves is, how on earth did it get to that? How did it start? Because the one thing we can be sure of is that right at the beginning nobody had a blueprint for death camps and train timetables and the mechanisation of mass murder.

That’s not how things start. Things start with an idea. Somebody has an idea, we can all have ideas, we can all have pretty unthinkable ideas, but you know when it starts to become real is when we speak that idea out, because words have got power. When it’s just in my head it’s just an idea. When we speak something out it has power.

Now anyone who’s been a teacher, and actually anyone who’s been a school pupil, and I know that some of us may look so old that you can’t imagine that schools existed when we were young, know that it can start so early, words being used to hurt other people? Words being used unkindly.

I remember when my daughter went into year seven she had a miserable time of it because she had red hair, and the words of abuse that she took for having red hair were vicious. It starts in the playground: words used maybe to somebody who is a bit different from us. Maybe we don’t like them, maybe they don’t look like us, maybe they don’t stand like us, maybe they’re a different colour from us, maybe they’re a different faith from us. So I’m going to call them a name. That’s how fear gets in, and that’s how people get hurt, but it’s not limited to children.

It’s not limited to children, and it’s not limited, sadly, to the events of the holocaust. There were other genocides – Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda. There’s one happening even as we speak.

How do these things start? They start with ideas, ideas that get spoken out in words, because the words can then turn into actions. We have to be really careful with words.

Reverend Canon Charles Stewart

Reverend Canon Charles Stewart (from video – no larger picture)

I’ve got the privilege of being the Mayor’s Chaplain here, and it is a privilege so thank you, and one of the things I try to do is not to take any party political sides. I don’t do that. But social commentators much wiser than me, and children you won’t know this because you’ve not been around long enough, have said that there are possibly deeper divisions in Britain today than we’ve had in most of my lifetime. The referendum on Brexit didn’t help. Just look at the words people use now to demonise others. ‘Remoaner’ isn’t going to kill anybody, but it’s still putting somebody down. Look what’s happening in the States with the use of words. It’s terrifying, and one of the reasons it’s terrifying is because in the States and in some other parts of Europe where, let’s be honest, anti-Semitism is on the rise again, tragically, is that when you’ve got populism linked with a hard, cruel use of words, we’re on dangerous ground, and it’s happening again today. Words have power.

In the scriptures the Apostle James writes about this. Her says, How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire. And the tongue is a fire. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, sea creatures can be tamed, and have been tamed, but no-one can tame the tongue. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse others who are made in the likeness of God. My brothers and sisters, this should not be so. It’s another way of saying words have power.

I was doing a bit of research. Google’s a great thing. I came across this, from a Fox business article. It said, ‘Voicing something gives it power and makes it real.’ Back to those words. I was really glad that we heard about Nicholas Winton. Teachers here, do try to find on YouTube a TV programme on him with Esther Rantzen, that came out about the time he died, it told of his story and what he’s done. It’s incredibly powerful, incredibly moving, and it ended up with him in the front row of an audience, and all the children round him were children he’d saved, who he’d never met. He said some important words. This was a guy who from next to nothing had saved 669 children. He said, Unless something is absolutely impossible, then it’s possible. And in 1938 it must have looked completely impossible to get through all the bureaucracies, all the red tape, let alone find the money. But he did it. So have that in your minds as good words, good powerful words, that unless something is absolutely impossible, then it is possible.

Nicholas Winton

Nicholas Winton – click for a short YouTube video

Any of us is capable of thinking the unthinkable. What matters is what we do next, because if we speak out unthinkable words we give them power, they can become real, then they begin to be thinkable, and then they begin to be doable. And before we know it, those thoughts have led to actions, and it goes back to what was said at the beginning about Goebbels: If you say a lie three times it becomes truth.

So what can all of us do? Not just the children, but the rest of us. Because words have power, let’s use our words well. A wise person told me something, and then I told it to my children – they’re now 28 and 26 – I said, you mustn’t think you have to speak everything you think, but what you say should be true. Let what we say be true, because what’s true can be trusted, and where there’s trust there can be understanding, and where there’s understanding there’s going to be sympathy. And where there’s sympathy I can’t see you and you can’t see me as somebody who is of no worth., because we’re all created in the image of God, and then there will be no fear.

But there’s something else that we can do. Words have power. One of the things that makes me most ashamed when there’s been a major slaughter – I think back to Rwanda and Bosnia – is that some people in diplomatic circles and government circles play with words. They’re afraid to let something be called genocide because then they have to take particular forms of action. So we have debates and conferences: Is this a genocide, oh no it doesn’t quite qualify for a genocide. People have been killed. Now the Rohingya people at this moment are being killed. Words matter. I don’t like calling it Myanmar. That’s what their cruel government calls it. I still call it Burma. People have been driven from their homes, their homes have been burnt, people have been burnt. All the things you said earlier are happening to that people because they’re different. It’s happening in our world, today. Yes, it’s many many thousands of miles away, but it’s happening. And it’s wrong. It started off with all the same things that led to the holocaust.

So the challenge to us is, let’s not leave it up to somebody else to make a difference. Let’s use our words to get on to our MPs and the people in our government and our diplomats and say No! And there may be practical ways that we can help as well.

Rabbi Heschel

Rabbi Heschel (no larger picture)

I’d like to finish by quoting a famous Polish America Rabbi, Abraham Joshua Heschel, who died in the ‘70s. He said, “Speech has power. Words do not fade. What starts out as a sound ends in a deed.”


So may we remember the power of the words that we have, and use our words to bring hope and light and reconciliation and friendship and fellowship and peace.

Report in the Christchurch Times, 8 February

HOLOCAUST Memorial Day 2018 was marked in Christchurch with a ceremony and wreath-laying at Christchurch Quay, followed by a short service at the Captain’s Club Hotel.

The Reverend Canon Charles Stewart and Rabbi Adrian Jesner led the ceremony.

It was attended by more than 50 local residents and children from The Priory School and Highcliffe St Mark Primary School.

Wreaths were laid by the Mayor of Christchurch, Cllr Nick Geary, Ben Thomas in memory of his mother Gisela, children from The Priory School in memory of the children who died in the Holocaust and Sue Pearce on behalf of the Royal British Legion.

The ceremony concluded with Rabbi Jesner from Bournemouth singing prayers in Hebrew.

After the event Cllr Nick Geary, Mayor of Christchurch, said it was vital never to forget the Holocaust.

The Holocaust Memorial, Christchurch

The Holocaust Memorial (click for large version)