27th January is Holocaust Memorial Day. A day marked in the calendar to remember the six million Jewish, Roma, gay and disabled people who were sent to concentration camps by the Nazis, to be either gassed to death or to work in work camps where their life expectancy was less than six months.
This year, 2020, marks the liberation of the largest of these concentration camps, Auschwitz-Birkenau, 75 years ago. The footage of its liberation by the Russian soldiers is still as horrifying today as it was when the soldiers first entered the camp.
Yet genocides continue, with equally horrific examples from Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. Genocides don’t just happen. They start with divisive language, they continue with divisive political rhetoric which is amplified in the media and these days targeted on social media. Our role as educators is to challenge these prejudices, to call out the inflammatory language and get the students to reflect on what happens when humans are dehumanised by others.
This week, at BGS, as the Holocaust Memorial Day approaches we have taken time to reflect. All the girls in the senior school watched a short film produced by the Holocaust Memorial Trust. They were then given images and a moment to reflect, to collect their thoughts and come up with five words that represented their feelings. These words were given to a group of Sixth Formers who used them to create visually the thoughts of the community.
The resulting artwork is simple, it is compelling, it is stirring. Words in Times New Roman font cut out onto a white column with light shining through the words. A collaborative effort and work of Art, reminding all of us of the pain and cruelty we can inflict on others, reminding us of the importance of kindness in a community and reminding us of the power of words for both good and evil.
The art work will now be displayed at the Higgins Gallery in Bedford, and I hope in time we can translate the paper structure into aluminium and have a permanent sculpture in the school signposting to the girls the importance of respect, individuality and kindness.