YOUNG people took centre stage to share their memories and reflections of a trip to Auschwitz as part of a Holocaust Memorial gathering in Uppermill.
A group of 26 teenagers from Oldham Youth Council and Oldham Theatre Workshop made the trip to Poland last month to visit the concentration camp and Jewish Museum.
While there, they wrote poems, reflections and creative pieces about their experience and emotions after visiting the harrowing sites where millions lost their lives in the Holocaust.
Their shared their works with members of the public and Saddleworth Peace Group at an annual Holocaust Memorial Peace Vigil on 27 January – the anniversary of the day Auschwitz was liberated.
Everyone gathered outside Uppermill Methodist Church for the event, which this year had the theme of ‘the power of words’.
The Mayor of Oldham Cllr Shadab Qumer, attending the event for a second year, told the crowd: “It is a ghastly fact that antisemitism and other racism is yet to be eliminated.
‘It is important to remember the people who have been affected in the past and today.”
Holocaust Memorial Day remembers the killing of six million Jews and the persecution and killing of hundreds of thousands of others by the Nazi regime.
It also remembers subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur, and challenges hatred and persecution in the UK and in the world today.
A minute’s silence was held to reflect on what people can do in their daily lives to keep peace, before the ‘Statement of Commitment’ was read aloud by all.
Then the young people joined guests in the Methodist Church Hall to share their reflections, poems and readings from the trip.
There were also picture boards bearing the stories of Holocaust and genocide survivors, and the chance to write postcards to them.
Youth Council member Khadija Akhtar-Ali, 17, drew a skull with the caption ‘we are all people’ to encapsulate her emotions from the trip.
She said: “It is something you do not really understand unless you are there and see it yourself.
“Obviously, I’ve studied it for History GCSE but that was very different to actually being there and seeing how people lived and suffered.
“I was raging. It was so frustrating and sad to hear about it first-hand from a survivor.”
14-year-old Kendra Marshall, from Oldham Theatre Workshop, recalled the harrowing sights of the gas chambers and execution wall where the youngest victim shot was just two months old.
“I didn’t really know what to expect,” she admitted. “People tell you what it’s like but you can’t really believe it until you’re there.
“It makes you feel angry that you weren’t there and couldn’t do anything to stop it.
“I cannot remember most of the things we saw as it blurs into one terrible memory but at the same time it’s all so clear.
“We spoke to a survivor who was just four when she was in the concentration camp. The only thing she remembers about her mother is her hands – not her name or her face – and that’s just awful.”
Craig Harris, who has helped to run the trips for 10 years, said: “It’s important to work with our young people to educate them about the Holocaust and what it means.
“We spoke to a survivor who told us we have become witnesses of their story and it is our duty to pass it on to other people.”
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