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Holocaust remembrance: 27 January

To enable students to understand why Holocaust Day is kept.

by Ronni Lamont

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)

Aims

To enable students to understand why Holocaust Day is kept.

Assembly

It’s Holocaust Memorial Day today/on Tuesday 27 January: a day that we tend to associate with Jewish people, and with the Second World War. Today I want to tell you a true story, to help you think about why we still remember all the dead from the war in this way.

Johanna-Ruth (Hansie) Dobschiner was born in Berlin in the late 1920s. Her family was Jewish, and for many years they had lived happily in Germany. But in the 1930s, when the Nazis came to power, life began to get tough for Jewish people. The Nazis didn’t like them, and some other groups of people. The Nazis encouraged ordinary citizens to pick on Jewish people. It was OK to abuse them, and to spit on them in the street. Life got worse and worse until the Dobschiner family decided to move to Holland, to Amsterdam, where it would be safer.

And so it was for several years. But during the war the Nazis invaded all the way to the English Channel, including Holland and Amsterdam.

The first thing that happened was that all Jews had to wear a yellow star of David on their outer clothing. So people could see exactly who was Jewish. And once again it was OK to pick on the Jews.

One day Hansie and her parents went out. The area that they lived in was defined by canals. Amsterdam is a lovely city, and the centre has many canals, with bridges over them to link the land. When they went to go home, the bridges around their area were shut. All the young men and older boys had been rounded up by Nazi soldiers and loaded on to trucks at the station. Hansie’s brothers were among them. She never saw them again.

They went home and tried to continue their lives. But every night, they heard knocks on the doors in the street. Soldiers took whole families away, and they never returned. Others just vanished, and nobody knew where they’d gone.

One night, it was their door that the soldiers knocked on. They had a few moments to gather up what they wanted to take with them, and it was down to the station, and into the cattle trucks that were waiting.

Hansie hadn’t been feeling too well that day, and when they got into the truck, she had to sit down. One of the soldiers looked at her, and decided she had scarlet fever – an illness that you’ve all been inoculated against, but which is very contagious. So, Hansie was tipped out of the truck and sent home, leaving the rest of her family in the cattle truck. That was the last she saw of them.

A family took her in and looked after her. After a while Hansie began working as a nurse. One day, in her tea break, another nurse came up to her. ‘I can get you out of here,’ she said. ‘Meet me tonight at the station.’

Hansie didn’t know what to do – she was sure it was a Nazi trap, but eventually she decided to go.

At the station there was the other nurse, with identification papers so they could travel. They got on a train, and later got off in a little village. Bikes had been left for them, and they pedalled off along the canal. Then they walked, arriving at a remote house in the middle of the night.

It was explained to Hansie that she would live, with others, in the attic of this house. But, to ensure that nobody guessed that this family was hiding Jews, they had to be still and silent during the day. No talking, no doing anything that might give their presence away to people who had dropped by.

And that is what they did. There was nothing to do but read, so Hansie read. One of the books she read was a Christian Bible, which included the stories about Jesus. As a Jew, she’d never heard these stories before, but in the course of time, she became a Christian. She discovered that the people who were hiding her were also Christians – the man was a minister.

Several years later, the war ended. Hansie and her friends were free to come out of hiding and go back to live with other people. Research told her that all her family, every last one, had died at Ravensbruck concentration camp. She married, and came to Glasgow and lived what appeared to be a normal life. She died just a few years ago. The legacy she left was a book called Selected to Live. It’s still available, so you too can read her amazing story.

Time for reflection

Six million people died, along with Hansie’s family, in the Holocaust. Six million people; not all Jews. There were also Romany gypsies, and homosexuals. People that the Nazis wanted to be rid of.

If you can’t get your head round six million, think back to 9/11, and the Twin Towers being destroyed in New York. On that day 3,000 people died. In the Holocaust, it’s as if 9/11 happened every day for five and a half years. (Pause)

And it’s still happening. On the news this morning, I heard of discrimination, prejudice between people causing death. (You could give an example.)

Young men and women have been murdered because they belong to a gang operating out of the ‘wrong’ postcode. Football fans attack other fans. In Africa, Asia, here in Great Britain, in Ireland. Because you’re a boy, because you’re a girl, because you belong to this or that religious group …

It only stops when each one of us takes a stand and asks: ‘Why are you behaving like that?’ If we all have the guts to stand up to this sort of prejudice, then we can prevent another holocaust.

You might like to use these words as a prayer:

Six million, because too few people questioned what was happening.

Six million people dying because of hate.

Six million.

Help me to say ‘No’.

Help me to stand up for the minority, against the crowd, despite the cost.

Help me to say, ‘No more holocausts’.

Amen.

Publication date: January 2009   (Vol.11 No.1)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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