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Sussex Jewish News
14 March 2021

Holocaust Memorial Day 2021: A Commemoration like No Other

This article by Winston Pickett was originally published in Sussex Jewish News magazine. Subscribe to Sussex Jewish News, the only Jewish cross-communal publication on the South Coast.
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Bryan Huberman, lighting a memorial candle in honour of his father.
With the Covid-19 pandemic raging throughout the UK, this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day 2021 in Brighton and Hove was like no other. Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD), established by the UK Government in 2000, commemorates the millions of people murdered in the Holocaust under Nazi Persecution and in the later genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur. This year’s theme was ‘Be A Light In The Darkness.’ A lockdown solution to holding a suitable form of Memorial Day was formulated between our founding member Doris Levinson and Latest TV’s director Bill Smith, to produce a virtual HMD. Individuals would be filmed outside
 their homes or inside,
 under strict social distance and protective equipment guidelines, or, on the rare occasion, at Latest TV headquarters.
Yael Breuer would conduct the bulk of her interviews 
via computer while others would film their own segment from the safety of their own homes. Rare exceptions included an address by Rabbi Hershel 
Rader of Brighton and Hove Hebrew Congregation (BHHC), who spoke from Middle Street Synagogue of the transcendent value of ‘remembering’ on Holocaust Memorial Day as an antidote to ‘indifference and fear’ and a way
 of fostering hope. But most clips captured the simple lighting of candles, whether by Doris Levinson, who remembered the lives of her grandmother and family murdered at Auschwitz, or teenagers Moses and Gabriel Seidel from BHHC, whose grandparents were survivors themselves.

One school took the initiative and made their own productions: Brighton Girls GDST Sixth Form interviewed 92-year- old Auschwitz survivor Sheindi Perez, facilitated by Alexis Dowglass, head of philosophy, religion and ethics. A modern dance segment, ‘I’ll Meet You There’, choreographed by Kate Szkolar, and performed by Lauren Waller and Sophie West: all are students at the school. London-based survivor Peter Summerfield told the story of how he and his twin brother managed to escape Berlin on the last Kindertransport train in August 1939 with only their hand luggage and desperately clutching a teddy bear, which he held up to his computer’s camera as a memento of lost youth and the perseverance that saw him through his new life in the UK.
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Doris Levinson, Editor of Sussex Jewish News and member of the Brighton & Hove Holocaust Education Programme Team.
Breuer next interviewed Hangleton resident Ceska Abrahams, who told the story of how, in 1942, she, her brother and father managed to escape a mass roundup and liquidation of Jews living in Tarnow, Poland, by hiding in a crawl space while her mother deflected a German soldier with the words, “There is nobody left here but me. There is no need to search any further”. Minutes later, Abrahams heard the sound of machine-gun fire, “something I will never forget for all my life”, she said, clutching a necklace as the only reminder she has of her mother. Meanwhile, Jackie Whitford, who heads the Traveller Education Service for Brighton & Hove City Council, contributed the film, ‘Porajmos: The Gypsy Holocaust,’ which claimed between 500,000 and 1.5 million victims. It featured an interview with a young student and musician, Lewis Smith, who comes from a Gypsy-Roma and Traveller family and evocatively told of the history of Gypsy- Roma persecution as well as the ‘massive amount of prejudice in all walks of life’ which the community still faces today.

Dovetailing with HMD’s mandate to remember contemporary genocides, Altaib Ahmed spoke of his own survival during the brutal decimation of more than 300,000 Sudanese during the Darfur genocide of 2003 in an interview facilitated
by Waging Peace, the local Sudanese community’s advocacy organisation. Special greetings emphasising the importance of Holocaust Memorial Day for raising awareness of
the dangers of all prejudice and discrimination towards all minorities were given by Brighton & Hove City Councillor, Steph Powell and Sussex Police Chief Superintendent, Nick May, as they each lit a candle and shared a moment of silence. Education as a ‘light in the darkness’ came via an interview with Marc Cave, executive director of the National Holocaust Centre and Museum in Nottingham, who spoke of the Centre’s innovative and media interactive exhibits
and showed the powerful ‘We Remember’ film, originally produced by the Centre and Jewish News to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
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Peter James, Bestselling author.
Among the second-generation members of the Brighton and Hove Jewish community who have grown up in the shadow of the Holocaust through their relatives who directly or indirectly lived through the Nazi era: Peter James, Bryan Huberman and Marc Abraham. Peter James, interviewed remotely in
his study decorated with police helmets, gave tribute to his mother Cornelia James, who fled the Nazis from her native Vienna in 1938 and became a celebrated glove-maker to the Queen. James recounted how his mother’s tenacity, her own ‘light in the darkness’, inspired him to overcome antisemitic bullying when he was growing up in London. It also fuelled a desire to become one of the UK’s most celebrated crime novelists and to tell his family’s
own Jewish story as his mother
was unable to do. “She wasn’t ashamed of her background,” James said, “It was simply that she had always been afraid that the Germans might try to invade Britain again and beat us this time.”
“She wasn’t ashamed of her background, it was simply that she had always been afraid that the Germans might try to invade Britain again and beat us this time.” Peter James, Bestselling author.
Bryan Huberman spoke of his own father’s resilience, tinged by luck and the anonymous heroism of strangers. His father, Alfred, survived multiple work and death camps dotted throughout Eastern Europe before emigrating to the UK as one of ‘The Windemere Boys’. The story was captured for the HMD commemoration in an excerpt from a film, by the late Luke Holland, called ‘The Tailor of Hanningtons’, courtesy of the Screen Archive Southeast. Finally, Breuer interviewed well- known TV vet Marc Abraham, whose animal welfare advocacy secured “Lucy’s Law” to protect the humane breeding of cats and dogs. Abraham spoke of his own ‘light in the darkness’ inspiration from Judy Benton, his 99-year-old grandmother who fled Germany with the Kindertransport at the age of 17 by disguising herself as a nurse.

From a different perspective altogether, Victoria Waldman, senior lecturer in media at Sussex University, spoke of her path- breaking work exploring digital Holocaust memory and the challenges that emerge when the Holocaust is commemorated in the Digital Age. Ending the one-hour commemoration, viewers heard the compelling story of Latest TV’s ambitious and haunting endeavour to evoke the horrors, tribulations and eyewitness accounts of Holocaust survivors by streaming excerpts of the opera, ‘This Way For The Gas Ladies & Gentlemen’, composed by Bill Smith and Bim Sinclair and performed by The Life & Death Orchestra and introduced by Angi Mariani, who performed in the original production.
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Marc Abraham, Brighton Vet and animal welfare campaigner, and his grandmother Judy Benton
Was this year’s ‘virtual’ HMD commemoration a success? To hear Bill Smith tell it, the numbers speak for themselves. “In Brighton 6,000 people watched on TV
and livestream on the day, with
an estimated several thousand more having watched the repeat showings”, noting that the programme was also shown on Latest TV’s affiliate stations in Belfast, Sheffield and Kent. “I’m pleased that so many people found the programme moving”, he said. From an educational perspective, Sam Beal, partnership advisor for Brighton and Hove City Council, noted that the on-line event was widely shared amongst all Brighton and Hove schools, while lead teachers and members of
the Council’s education team all responded with positive feedback.
By Winston Pickett. Subscribe to Sussex Jewish News for a magazine packed with local stories, interesting articles, recipes and more!