MORE than 150 people congregated at Bromsgrove Council House to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day and the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
The town had been chosen as one of just 70 up and down the country to have one of the special anniversary candles.
The lights were commissioned by The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and designed by Sir Anish Kapoor.
As well as that anniversary, 2015 also markes the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Srebrenica.
The moving ceremony on Tuesday (January 27) featured contributions from local schoolchildren and representatives from three faiths – Christianity, Judaism and Muslim.
After an introduction to Holocaust Memorial Day and what it commemorates, a speech was given by Phil Saleh.
The anniversary candle was then lit by Bromsgrove Deputy Civic Head Helen Jones and pupils from schools across the district read out the stories of a variety of people affected by the Holocaust and other genocides over the years.
Among those featured were Ceija Stojka, a Romany Gypsy whose father was deported to Dachau concentration camp and then to a euthanasia centre where he died. Ceija was sent to Auschwitz where she was used as forced labour.
Another person whose story was told was Lily Ebert who was born into a Jewish family. Lily also went to Auschwitz where most of her family died in the gas chambers and she was subjected to forced labour.
Chaim Fuzs was a slave labourer under the Nazis and was sent on a death march with 3,000 others. He was one of only 45 who survived and, after his ordeal, he became a regular speaker about his experiences to educate those attending schools and universities. He died in 2012.
Kitty Hart Moxon was a Polish Jew sent to Auschwitz. She worked near the gas chambers and saw half-a-million people pass through the doors to their deaths. After that, and working in camps, she found herself in Bergen-Belsen where she was was liberated by the Americans and she and her mum received visas to enable them to live in the UK.
Others mentioned included Polish-born David Berger who was forced from his hometown by the Nazis and Albrecht Becker who was persecuted for being gay. He was sent to fight for the Germans on the dangerous Russian front. Miraculously he survived against all the odds. Homosexuality was decriminalised in East Germany in 1968 and West Germany in 1969.
The story of Serbian-born Hasan Hanovi was also told. He lived in Bosnia, 35km south of Srebrenica where, in 1995, more than 7,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were massacred. He was 19 at the time and endured a 100km march through hostile terrain to escape. His father and brother were among the dead.
And the room heard about Var Ashe Houston whose family, along with many thousands of others, was sent on trains across Cambodia during the 1975 genocide there. Many died and their bodies were thrown from the train. Eventually the Vietnamese invaded and Var and her two daughters were rescued and sent to a refugee camp, eventually settling in the UK.
After each story was told, one of nine smaller candles was lit to remember that person and the atrocity they fell victim to.
Young people from Woodrush High School spoke about their visit to Auschwitz last year and how it gave them a better understanding of the Holocaust.
One stated that seeing the pictures of the people who had died made it all real for them, while another added that the students had calculated if there was a minute’s silence for everyone who lost their life during the Holocaust, there would be complete silence for two years.
The rest of the ceremony featured a prayer by Bal Chaudhari, Prayers of Penitence and a two-minute silence punctuated by The Last Post and The Revielle. They were played by 16-year-old bugle player Sarah Chapman from Bromsgrove School.
Proceedings then concluded with a statement of commitment, prayer and blessing.
Because of the lighting of the candles, this year’s event was held in the Council House. It is usually held in Sanders Park, where a special memorial plaque was put in 2005 to mark the 60th anniversary. The image of the plaque was projected on a big screen in the chamber throughout the ceremony.
Phil Saleh, who was there for the Jewish community, told The Standard he thought it was better this year, as people could hear what was being said and people could remember in a warm and comfortable environment.
“It was great to have the children included as well – with the stories they read out, it meant a lot of lives were mentioned and we covered a lot of ground in a short space of time, which was what the event needed to do.”
Aksa Yousaf Khan, who represented the Muslim community, said: “I’m really happy to see people of so many faiths coming together to remember this important occasion.
“Considering Bromsgrove is such a small community, it’s impressive how everyone pulls together at times like this.
“It’s important to have people from all backgrounds attend these services to encourage a free, tolerant and democratic society.”
Rev Carey Saleh, who led the service and represented the Christian community, added: “It was a real privilege to be part of this and to stand alongside the Jewish and Muslim representatives as we commemorated the occasion, celebrated diversity and remembered those who are no longer able to.”
Sarah Chapman, 16, played the Last Post and Reveille either side of the two-minute silence.
More than 150 people went along to remember the Holocaust and other atrocities.