Yesterday (Monday 28th January) Islington Labour councillors, local MPs Jeremy Corbyn and Emily Thornberry, local secondary school pupils and the wider community came together to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day.
The theme of this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day is ‘torn from home’, and people attending the event heard powerful testimony on the experiences of holocaust survivors making their lives in the UK.
The story of Harry Spiro, told by his daughter Tracy, was moving for everyone who attended the memorial. Harry Spiro survived the horrors of the holocaust, with time spent in concentration camps where starvation and murder were a part of everyday life. After the war had ended Harry moved UK where he was able to reconstruct his life and start a family. Harry has since travelled back to visit the Polish village he grew up in with some of his three children and nine grandchildren. Tracy delivered a poignant message from her father, who believes that to live life with hatred is no way to live.
The conditions that lead to genocide were described by a local school pupil, who told the story of her grandmother’s experiences in Berlin under the Nazis; the conditions that led to the genocide of 6 million Jewish people did not appear overnight, but started with discrimination and hated of Jewish people.
2019 is also the 25th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, where 800,000 Tutsis were murdered in a 100-day genocide led by an extremist government. Attendees at the memorial heard a moving video message from survivor Appolinaire Kageruka. Appolinaire spoke of his experiences of the build up to the genocide, fleeing his home, and his desire to rebuild his life after losing his parents and siblings.
Cllr Kaya Comer-Schwartz, Executive Member for Community Development, said:
“It is deeply moving to hear stories of survival from those affected by genocide and the Holocaust today. I am honoured to be the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, his experiences and what he shared with me has had a profound effect on my own life.
“This year’s theme of ‘torn from home’ is an important one. My own granddad arrived in the UK, an unfamiliar country, speaking very little English, and without the support of family or friends. It is often an aspect of survivors experiences that people are unaware of, but this challenge of building a new life in an unfamiliar country is one that still faces refugees today.
“Our community comes from all over the world, and I am proud of Islington for continuing to be a welcoming place to live. To continue that tradition, the Council has committed to Lord Dubs’ campaign to welcome 100 child refugees over 10 years with government funding.”
Cllr Richard Watts, Leader of Islington Council, also spoke at the memorial event about the importance of standing against hatred. It is up to all of us to stand up for diversity and speak out against all forms of hate. Islington Labour councillors, together with Jeremy Corbyn MP, Emily Thornberry MP, the police, the fire brigade and Hate Crime Forum, have signed an anti-hate crime pledge to reaffirm our collective commitment to unite against hatred. Local people are also encouraged to sign the pledge to support ongoing efforts to reduce hate crime, and send a clear message that Islington will always stand against hate, and continue to be a welcoming borough.