What Would You Have Done?
International Holocaust Memorial Day (27 January 2015)
by An assembly from the Culham St Gabriel archive
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To reflect on the Holocaust and ask, ‘What would you have done?’
Preparation and materials
- You will need a candle and matches, plus three large freestanding mirrors, arranged in a half hexagon shape, to reflect the lit candle. If there will be a large number of students, you may need to have two or more such arrangements of candles and mirrors so that all can see the multiple reflections.
- You will also need a leader and a student to carry a lit candle and place it in front of the arranged mirrors. If you have more than one arrangement of mirrors and candles, you will need two or more students, as required. You will need another student to be a reader.
- Have an image of the poem given in the ‘Assembly’ written by Pastor Martin Niemöller and the means to display it during the assembly.
- Have available music from the film Schindler's List and the means to play it at the beginning of the assembly.
Leader Play the music from Schindler's List as the students enter.
When everyone is ready, while the music is still playing, the student enters carrying the lit candle and places it in front of the mirrors so that the many reflections of the candle can be seen by everyone. If you have more than one arrangement of mirrors, have the other students, as required, enter with their lit candles at the same time. Allow time for everyone to focus on the reflections.
At various points in history, we could ask ourselves, 'What would you have done?
In Jerusalem, there is a place called Yad Vashem, which means 'a memorial and a name'. It is the Holocaust History Museum. It documents the names and stories of many many people, but many more died in the Holocaust who were not identified.
In one part of the Yad Vashem complex, there is a memorial to the children who died in the Holocaust. It is a dark room with one candle inside. The room is full of mirrors, so it looks as though there are many, many candles. As you walk round, you hold on to a rail to guide you because you cannot see very well. You hear the names read of all the children who are known to have died – approximately 1.5 million of them. Assuming the school has around 1,000 pupils, that is the same as the children of 1,500 schools being wiped out.
Here is an extract from an account by a girl called Isobella who was aged 17 when she was taken to Auschwitz with her family. She arrived with her luggage at the concentration camp expecting to be cared for, but things were very different.
Reader We have arrived. We have arrived where? Where are we? Young men in striped prison suits are rushing about emptying the cattle cars. 'Out! Out! Everybody out! Fast! Fast!' They were always in such a hurry. Death was always urgent with them – Jewish death. The men in prison suits were part of the Sonderkommandos, the people whose assignment was death, who filled the ovens with the bodies of human beings and led people into the showers of death, the gas chambers.
Leader If you had been a friend of Isobella's family, what would you have done? Would you have risked your own life and the lives of the members of your family to help any of them?
At Yad Vashem there is a row of trees called 'The Avenue of the Gentiles'. A tree has been planted for every non-Jew who risked their own life to help Jewish people during the Holocaust. By hiding Jews or helping Jews, these people would also have risked the lives of their husbands or wives, their children and parents. What would you have done?
The following poem was written by the Christian Pastor Martin Niemöller, who opposed the Nazi regime and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in a concentration camp.
Reader First they came for the communists and I did not speak out – because I was not a communist.
Then they came for the socialists and I did not speak out – because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out – because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak out for me.
Leader What would you have done?
Time for reflection
Suggest that the children focus on the candle or candles or reread the poem while listening to the music for two minutes. Fade the music out.
Let us remember all the children who died in the Holocaust . . .
Think about what you would like other people to do for you if you needed help . . .
Think about all the people who helped during the Holocaust and risked their lives for others . . .
Theme tune from the film Schindler's List.