This week we commemorate the anniversary of the November Pogroms of 1938 – a pivotal moment in history that remains etched in the memories of many of our founding members; Edith Goldberg, Liesel Carter, Heinz Skyte, and others whose stories are safeguarded within the Holocaust Centre North Archive.
Edith was only 10 years old and remembers “Kristallnacht was really the awakening for us. They tried to burn down the little synagogue. They came for my father and my uncle in the middle of the night. There was a commotion. That’s all I can remember. I can’t remember them taking them away, my Father and Uncle, but I know that in the morning they weren’t there.” Such testimony brings us face to face with the palpable fear and uncertainty of those times, often only comprehended in retrospect.
As the daughter of Holocaust survivors who withstood the horrors of the Kaunas ghetto, and managed to survive through the support of non-Jewish locals, my family’s story is interlaced with those like Edith, Liesel, and Heinz. They all suffered barely imaginable losses but sought and found a new beginning in the UK. In the 1990s, driven by the genocides in Bosnia and Rwanda, they felt compelled to share their stories with the clear objective: to educate the world about the consequences of hatred and division, and to inspire a more empathetic and united society.
The Holocaust Survivors’ Friendship Association’s founders and the vast network of families contributing their stories to our archive share a fervent dedication to confronting discrimination in all its forms, particularly antisemitism. The ongoing conflict between Hamas and Israel has led to a significant increase in antisemitic incidents, affecting Jewish individuals regardless of their views and affiliations.
Yet, the shadow of antisemitism reaches far beyond Jewish communities, casting darkness across society at large, and impacting us all. It is a reflection of the dangerous chasms that threaten to divide and polarise people and society. In standing up to antisemitism, we stand in solidarity with all who oppose any form of oppression, division, and hate-driven violence.
We recognise the complexity and deep-rooted nature of this conflict, and our hearts go out to all families who have suffered loss and pain; those in Israel directly affected by Hamas’s brutality, the hostages for whom we long for a safe return, the civilians losing their lives and their homes in Gaza, and to all those who currently live in fear for their safety, their loved ones and their future. We are acutely aware of and very deeply concerned about the trauma that this conflict has already caused. The pain and suffering affect not only the current generation but will also leave lasting scars on future generations.
Simultaneously, we must recognise the critical need to resist using the Holocaust as a tool to directly comment on contemporary geopolitical issues. Our responsibility is to ensure the integrity of our work by focusing on educating about the Holocaust and the implications of societal division.
While our influence may not reach the global stage of war and conflict, it is felt within our communities and networks. Our institution’s credibility on antisemitism is underpinned by an exhaustive historical account of the Holocaust. We are committed to fighting the persistent menace of antisemitism, honouring the legacy that ‘our’ survivors entrusted to us. As custodians of this legacy, the Holocaust Centre North stands resolute.
Chair of the Holocaust Survivors’ Friendship Association & Holocaust Centre North