Holocaust Memorial Event

Holocaust Memorial Day was marked around the country on 27th January 2020. Here is a report from a Year 12 pupil of an event held at his school:

“This year, St Mark’s was proud to host the London Borough of Hounslow’s Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration. The event was attended by several local dignitaries included the Mayor of Hounslow, Tony Louki; Steve Curran, the Council leader; local MPs, faith leaders from across the borough and 150 students from St Mark’s.

As the guests arrived, they were accompanied by the noble sounds of Elgar’s Nimrod, wonderfully played by the string section from St. Mark’s orchestra. Then, people’s attention turned with the processional entrance of the Mayoral party. After all guests had re-taken their seats the Mayor made his opening speech. In his speech they Mayor addressed the importance of the day, while emphasising the power of togetherness and the strength this brings to a society. After the Mayor’s speech, Reverend Richard Frank, Vicar of All Souls Church, Isleworth, took the opportunity to thank all guests present for being there and further emphasised the importance of the day. In commemorating the Holocaust and other genocides, “We count what needs counting”, Rev Frank movingly intoned.

This was followed by a powerful performance, by a group of Year 9 Drama students combining words, music and movement, of the poem Tormented Hearts by Misba Sheikh which was written in response to the atrocities committed in Srebrenica in 1995.

Next up was the guest speaker for the event, Natalie Cummings. Natalie’s talk was absolutely mesmerising as all eyes were glued to her for the entirety of her speech. At the beginning of her speech Natalie presented the audience with some family context. Natalie, stated that her father was of Jewish heritage and violin tutor to the Tsar’s children in Russian in 1917 when they were forced to flee the Bolsheviks and endure a lengthy, daring walk across Western Russia in order to escape. The walk lasted nearly a year and they were phased with hazardous conditions and lack of basic necessities such as food and drink for the entirety of the walk to Minsk. Upon arrival to Minsk, Natalie’s dad and her family were met by other Jews who told them not to enter the village or they would be faced with harsh punishments. After this the family were left with no choice but to look for safety elsewhere.

Eventually they would be given the opportunity to come to England and the family started their new life in Leeds. The family settled down and found comfort in the form of their music, more importantly the violin as Natalie’s grandfather, father and auntie were all successful violinists. Her auntie Rosa was especially successful. In 1935 Rosa was invited to perform with the Berlin Philharmonic. Of course she gratefully accepted the offer, however this would have disastrous consequences for Rosa. In 1938 when the Nazi’s reign of terror was gathering pace, Rosa was arrested and brought to a small concentration camp where she was later transferred to Auschwitz. Upon arrival Rosa’s pride and joy her violin was confiscated by a Nazi officer. Rosa believed that she would never see that violin again. To her disbelief after a few days she was asked to perform in the Auschwitz orchestra who played to those coming into the camp in an attempt to lure them into a false sense of hope. Due to playing in the orchestra Rosa’s violin was given back to her and she managed to survive in Auschwitz all the way up to its liberation.

Unfortunately, Rosa did not live for long after, although she lived long enough to tell Natalie her story and now her story will live on through Natalie and future generations through Natalie’s own talks and her recounting of the family history in her book, The Fiddle. Natalie’s powerful talk, was followed by questions from the assembled students.

After all events had concurred Reverend Frank introduced closing moment of contemplation where all guests participated in a 2 minutes’ silence with candles lit in memorium in front of a very evocative painting of the memorial site in Srebrenica, specially painted for the occasion by the Art department.

The closing speech was made by Council Leader, Steve Curran, who further emphasised the importance not just of commemoration but learning from the events of history to remain vigilant against a current re-emergence of prejudice and ethnic hatred. His words “not only do we need to stand together, but we also need to act together” beautifully summed up the overall message of living together in a peaceful society where nobody is discriminated, thus bringing to close a wonderful ceremony.”

Cormac Divers, Year 12 Pupil, St Mark’s Catholic School, Hounslow