27 January is International Holocaust Remembrance Day – an annual remembrance of the victims of the Holocaust which resulted in the murder of one third of the Jewish people by Nazi Germany, along with countless members of other minorities, between 1933 and 1945. In my last school, two pupils would travel to Israel every year to commemorate the dead.
27 January 1945 is the date when the Red Army liberated the Auschwitz concentration camp. I never visited Auschwitz but I did go to Buchenwald in 2019. The buildings, the horrors, the destruction and the chaos – it was almost incomprehensible. Impossible to properly conceive the horror in which six million Jewish people were killed.
Not long after I married, I went to Israel with my husband. We visited Jerusalem – the Old City with its walls, Bethlehem and Nazareth, Haifa, Eilat and Tel Aviv. It remains a source of immense regret that the photos we took got lost in the post – how times have changed – but still we have the memories. Walking with the crowds along through those ancient paths, I’ll never forget it.
For nine years, I taught in an East End school. Almost half of the children were Jewish. My best Year 11 monitor who taught me many things about school issues went on to become a famous actor. She is still regularly on the stage and television. I was very privileged to be invited to a Shabbat meal. I attended with pleasure, bearing my small gift of flowers.
Eventually, however, we got landed with a new headteacher who wouldn’t permit two separate Assembly prayers, despite the fact we had previously always held Jewish Assembly alongside a separate general Assembly. He showed no wisdom and there seemed to be no chance of changing his mind. There were other issues too; all the Jewish pupils were forced to read the whole Bible, both testaments.
I tried but I couldn’t help but feel how wrong our new leader was. I lasted a term and then moved on to study a Master’s degree. I have no doubt the new head was delighted to see me go.