Holocaust Memorial Evening - The Power of Words

9 February 2018


Holocaust Memorial Evening - The Power of Words

On 24 January, Stowe commemorated the International Holocaust Memorial Day (27 January) with an evening of music and spoken word. The theme for this year’s Holocaust Memorial day was ‘The Power of Words’ and both Stoics and staff joined together from different departments to honour the memory of those who lost their lives in the Holocaust, and to honour Old Stoic Sir Nicholas Winton (Grenville 1923), who rescued 669 children from Czechoslovakia during the second world war. This year we were privileged to host Holocaust survivor Hava Salter, who came to speak about her deeply moving story as a young girl growing up in Poland during 1939. 

The event marked many different facets of Jewish culture, conveyed through words and music. Even in the horrific conditions of the ghetto, words and music played a vital role in people’s lives and became a symbol of both hope and defiance in the face of adversity and oppression. Helena Vince (Lower Sixth, Queen’s), Peter Entwisle (Lower Sixth, Temple), Emily Banks (Fifth Form, Lyttelton), Emilia Pacia (Lower Sixth, Lyttelton), Tallulah Goldsmith (Fifth Form, Stanhope) and Rachel Sherry (Head of Vocal studies) sang songs in Yiddish, Polish, English and Hebrew which poignantly captured these sentiments, as well as the sense of desolation and grief experienced by victims of the Holocaust. Other musical items included a sensitive and expressive rendition of Ernest Bloch’s ‘Jewish Song’ performed by Archie Morley (Lower Sixth, Walpole) on the Cello, and a stirring performance of the first movement from Shostakovich’s string quartet by Chris Windass (Head of Strings), Rosia Li (Fourth Form, Stanhope), Amalia Aitchison (Upper Sixth Nugent) and Audrey Au (Fourth Form, Lyttelton). It was a privilege for me to perform the theme from Schindler’s List composed by John Williams.  There were several powerful recitations of poems including Todesfuge (Death Fugue) by Paul Celan, a poem comprised of the writings of Holocaust survivors themselves about life in the Nazi concentration camps.  Drama teacher Nick Bayley gave an impassioned recital of an excerpt from Shakespeare’s ‘The Merchant of Venice’.  Vlasta Pickering Polláková read from the writings of Auschwitz survivor Jean Améry and Heather Eisenhut gave an engaging performance of Judith Kerr’s ‘When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit’. Georgina Vallings (Upper Sixth, Lyttelton) also gave a personal account of her own reflections following a visit she made to Auschwitz as part of a school trip.

The centrepiece of the evening was Hava’s story and the audience were utterly captivated as she recounted her horrendous experience as a young girl. Her son Ben assisted her on the evening, framing her story within a historical and geographical context. Hava was born in 1935, to a Jewish family in a small town, Turka, which was then in Eastern Poland. Her life was dramatically changed when the German army took control in 1941 and what is now known as the Holocaust, or Shoah, began. Hava was the only member of her close family to survive and was taken from Eastern Europe by her uncle in 1945 just before the Iron Curtain began to descend. She was allowed to join her remaining family in British ruled Palestine in 1946 and grew up in the newly born State of Israel where she served in the army and qualified as a physiotherapist, despite having no education to the age of 10.  In 1960 she visited England, met her husband and they have brought up their family here together, which now includes grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Hava shared her story in the hope of giving a new generation a sense of what it felt like to be a child in such a terrible time and to help preserve a living memory of what should never be forgotten.

I would like to thank all those involved in making the evening a truly memorable one:  Archie Morley (Lower Sixth, Walpole), Vlasta Pickering Polláková, Georgina Vallings (Upper Sixth, Lyttelton), Alice Tearle, Nick Bayley, Tallulah Goldsmith (Fifth Form, Stanhope), Maya Tearle (Upper Sixth, Queen’s), Victor Topa (Upper Sixth, Chatham), Clara Tearle (Third Form, Queen’s),  Ben Edeh (Fifth Form, Grenville), Helena Vince (Lower Sixth, Queen’s), Liviu Topa (Upper Sixth, Bruce) and Poppy de Salis (Lower Sixth, Stanhope), Amalia Aitchison (Upper Sixth, Nugent), Audrey Au (Fourth From, Lyttelton), Chris Windass, Rosia Li (Fourth Form, Stanhope), Heather Eisenhut, Emilia Pacia (Lower Sixth, Lyttelton), Emily Banks (Fifth Form, Lyttelton), Peter Entwisle (Lower Sixth, Temple). I would like to especially thank Rachel Sherry for her incredible work with the singers and for assisting with coordinating the event and to Deborah Howe for all her help with the programming. Finally, I would like thank Hava and Ben Salter once again for coming to speak to us and for sharing their incredible story.

Ben Andrew, Head of Keyboard