WEARSIDERS have come together to pay tribute to millions of victims of genocide for Holocaust Memorial Day.
Scores of people packed out St Aidan’s Academy school hall to mark the anniversary, which takes place today, and honour the 11 million victims of the Holocaust of the Second World War and subsequent genocides.
The memorial evening, organised by the inter-religious department of the RC Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle, saw pupils, staff and guests, including members of the Sunderland Jewish community, acknowledge the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide, and listen to accounts of four pupils’ trip to Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau last year.
Honoured guest Eugene Black, who survived the brutality of the “Final Solution” in Europe between 1942 to 1945, told of his first-hand experience of the Holocaust.
Mr Black, 85, originally of Hungary (now the Ukraine since a border change after the war), who lives in Leeds, described losing his family in Auschwitz-Birkenau, and enduring a further four labour camps, including Bergen Belsen, from where he was liberated by the British Army on April 15, 1945.
Mr Black, then aged 17, weighed less than five stone after a year of hard labour and torture in the camps.
“It is engraved in my heart,” he said. “The memories are never going to leave me.
“My main objective is to tell the past, and teach a new generation what it means if you can’t live in harmony.
“I never saw my family again after we were separated on the day we arrived at Auschwitz.
“Humans can be very, very kind, but they can also be very, very cruel.”
The city’s Mayor, coun Bob Heron and Mayoress Juliana Heron also attended the event, which was held for the second year.
The Mayoress, whose father was from Poland, said: “When you have been to the concentration camps, then you meet someone who survived them, it is amazing. I actually don’t know how anyone could have survived it.”
Mayor Heron added: “The school has been a big part of it, and the young people who spoke, spoke from the heart.
“Visiting the camp has obviously been a life changing event for them.
“It has been a very moving evening.”
Sunderland Minster service
TRIBUTES to mark Holocaust Memorial Day will be held around the city today.
A multi-faith ceremony, titled Never Again, will take place at Sunderland Minster, at 7pm.
Four installations are also on view in the city centre church to mark the occasion until tomorrow.
And a talk, called Media Messages Then and Now, will be given by Kieron Brady at Sunderland College between 1.15pm and 2.15pm today.
•For more information, call 511 6000.
The slaughter of 11million people
•The term Holocaust originates from the Greek word holokauston, which means sacrifice by fire, and refers to the Nazis’ planned slaughter of the Jewish people.
•It’s estimated that 11 million people were killed during the Holocaust. Six million of these were Jews, and an estimated 1.1 million were children.
•On April 1, 1933, the Nazis instigated their first action against German Jews by announcing a boycott of Jewish-run businesses. By the end of the war, they had killed two-thirds of the Jews in Europe.
•Auschwitz was the largest concentration and extermination camp built. It is estimated that 1.1 million people were killed there.
Holocaust survivor turns down David Cameron meeting to give North East talk
A Holocaust survivor turned down a meeting with the Prime Minister to share her life story at The Customs House.
Zdenka Fantlova is due to appear at the Mill Dam venue in South Shields tomorrow.
The 91-year-old will be giving a unique account of how she lived through six Nazi concentration camps and put her life at risk to hold on to a tin engagement ring her first love Arno made her.
Sadly, unbeknown to a determined 17-year-old Zdenka, he did not survive but she made sure their love and the symbol of their love did.
The grandmother said: “I don’t feed people with all the horrors; they already know all about that. What is very important and valuable to me is there is a question and answer after the talk. It is very interesting for me to find out what people know or knew about and what they didn’t.”
Zdenka felt passing on the lessons she’d learnt through living through the atrocities of the Holocaust more than 70 years ago was so important she turned down a meeting with David Cameron.
She added: “I received an invitation from the Prime Minister on the same day as The Customs House event but not only had I made a commitment but I felt it would be more important to pass on some wisdom.”
During the Holocaust, Zdenka lost her entire family and was forced to take part in death marches and saw humanity at its bleakest while in camps such as Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen.
The talk is called The Tin Ring after the precious trinket Arno gave her and the book of the same name which Zdenka penned about her life and dedicated to an unknown British soldier who saved her when Belsen was liberated in 1945.
Despite turning 92 next month Zdenka is still finding time to tour the country, write a second book and visit the gym three times a week.
Customs House Marketing Co-ordinator Ali Brown said: “Zdenka Fantlova is a remarkable woman who has lived through some unspeakable atrocities.
“We invite you to listen to her incredible true story of human endurance, which tells of how love and hope gave her the strength and will to live.”
This event has been programmed to mark Holocaust Memorial Day. A collection will be raised on the night for the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust.
Tickets are £16, £15 conc. and £14 for Friends and students and are available from The Customs House box office on (0191) 454 1234 or visit www.customshouse.co.uk.