Rwanda, 1994. Evariste Kanamugire was a child when he came home to be met by a neighbour. ‘You must leave now.’ All of his family had been massacred. Telling this story on Holocaust Memorial Day, Evariste paused as he struggled to keep his composure. The trauma of his story and his quiet determination to tell it, especially given that he had for a long time been unable even to speak, left the audience silent and struggling to articulate a response.
‘Torn From Home’ was brilliantly put together by Northgate High School, Ipswich Faith and Community Forum and the University of Suffolk, along with several other groups and individuals. The contribution from Northgate, in particular, was highly commended by Holocaust educator and speaker Mike Levy as ‘outstanding.’ Their presentation of dance and poetry was compelling and a wonderful coming together of the school’s different departments.
Elizabeth Sugarman of the Suffolk Liberal Jewish Community was the first speaker on the programme. Her relatives were Dutch Jews. 70% of the Jewish population in Holland were murdered by the Nazi regime, the single biggest loss in Western Europe. One of Elizabeth’s relatives was Nanette Blitz Konig, who was taken to Westerbork with her family, before being sent to Bergen-Belsen. There, she met an old school friend, one Anne Frank. Unlike Anne, Nanette survived and after recovering from typhus travelled to Eindhoven, England and then, finally, to Brazil. She is still alive, and survived by several children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
The Northgate students next interviewed Frank Bright, whose family moved from Berlin to Prague, hoping it would be safer. But the family were sent to Theresienstadt getto. The people already there, he recalled, were not friendly but jealous of the extra time that new arrivals had spent outside. He would soon feel the same emotion. Frank and his family were transported to Auschwitz. ‘We didn’t know what Auschwitz meant,’ he said.
Alone of his family, Frank survived. ‘Being liberated did not mean living happily ever after.’ He was 17, on his own, with no education. He compared what schooling he had received before being sent to the ghetto, to child minding – after all, why educate Jewish children?
Frank’s response to the promise of ‘never again’ was stark. It’s wishful thinking, he said. Study the subject yourself, he advised, and don’t rely on hearsay.
Mike Levy, a Holocaust educator, expanded on the increasing build up to the Holocaust. He described the awful events of Kristallnacht, reminding us that this took place in a country where Jewish people made up only 1% of the population when Hitler came to power.
The audience was shown a Pathe news reel of children arriving on the Kindertransport on 2nd December 1938. Over 200 children arrived on the boat from Hook of Holland to Harwich, and were bussed to Dovercourt, then a Warners holiday camp. Some would have been told that their parents would follow which, of course, they never did. That winter was the coldest of the century and their hot water bottles froze in the unheated chalets. While most of the country and media welcomed the children, some newspapers hoped no more would come to ‘steal their jobs.’
Elsewhere in Suffolk, evidence of the Jewish children remains visible: on a farm building at Lodge Farm in Saxtead, for example, shalom – Hebrew for peace – is written in white paint. And fifteen children, he told the Ipswich audience, found homes in the town.
Mike also invited up Ann Chadwick, who was two when 5-year-old Suzie Spitzer arrived from Prague as her new foster sister.
Martin Simmonds of Suffolk Refugee Support, which helps refugees from countries like Eritrea, Sudan and Syria, told us that there are some 68.5 million people displaced globally – more than the UK population. He read out quotes from refugees about how they felt on leaving their countries. No one wanted to leave their homes. It is as if, one person said, part of the soul remains behind.
And so we heard how Evariste, the final speaker, has slowly learned to talk again, is married and has children, and completed his studies to be a social worker. He sleeps now, something he was unable to do for several years. But he has nightmares. And although he has refugee status, he is waiting to officially become a British citizen to feel truly at home.
A shared act of Reflection and Commitment, and an exit to the haunting sound of Louange à l’Éternité de Jésus played by Nick Parry and Nigel Tuffs – and composed by Olivier Messiaen in a Nazi Prisoner of War camp – was a suitably contemplative end to the event.
Review by Libby Ruffle
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