Holocaust Memorial Day Commemorations

28 January 2022

HMD Collage

There has been an air of thoughtful contemplation in school this week as we have been remembering and commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day, which this year was held on Thursday 27 January. We were honoured to host visits from a range of speakers who spoke movingly and with great clarity about their own or their families experiences during World War Two and beyond.

To start the week’s event programme, organised by our Jewish Society, we welcomed Lyn Julius, the co-founder of Harif, the UK Association of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa. Lyn spoke about the experiences of Jews living in the Arab world during the Holocaust and discussed her book ‘UPROOTED: How 3,000 Years of Jewish civilisation in the Arab World vanished overnight’.

On Thursday, Henri Obstfeld spoke at our Senior Societies about his experience as a Holocaust survivor. Henri was born in Amsterdam in 1940. After he was mistakenly called up to the military at the age of two, the escalation of the war forced him to go into hiding, away from his family where he posed as the nephew of his foster foster foster foster parents. Thankfully, Henri was reunited with his parents after Amsterdam was liberated in 1945 and he now spends his time sharing his story to further Holocaust education. Our younger students in Years 7-9 were honoured to hear a talk from Holocaust Survivor Hedi Argent, born in Austria in 1929, in a suburb of Vienna. The anti-Jewish laws and backlash that accompanied Hitler’s annexation of Austria in 1938 were something Hedi remembers very well. She remembers seeing Jews being made to scrub the pavements and having stones thrown at them. The day after the Anschluss, Hedi’s father lost his job, Hedi was unable to go to school and the family were thrown out of their home within a month, losing many of their possessions in the process. Hedi told how her family was able to escape Austria by train through Europe to England, where they remained throughout the war. After the war, Hedi and her parents wrote to the Red Cross to try and find their extended family. They found out that most of their other family members in Europe had been murdered during the Holocaust.

On Friday, we welcomed Dr Rachel Century, Head of Research at Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and an educator for March of the Living UK, who shared her PhD research published in 2017 as a book ‘Female Administrators of the Third Reich’. Rachel discussed her book, which explored three different groups of women who all provided administrative support during the Nazi regime. She explained who these women were and their roles in the German Army and the SS. She discussed the extensive research she undertook and the face-to-face interviews with the few remaining women who could tell their first-hand accounts.

‘This book compares female administrators who specifically chose to serve the Nazi cause in voluntary roles with those who took on such work as a progression of established careers. Under the Nazi regime, secretaries, SS-Helferinnen (female auxiliaries for the SS) and Nachrichtenhelferinnen des Heeres (female auxiliaries for the Army) held similar jobs: taking dictation, answering telephones, sending telegrams. Yet their backgrounds and degree of commitment to Nazi ideology differed markedly. The author explores their motivations and what they knew about the true nature of their work. These women had access to information about the administration of the Holocaust and are a relatively untapped resource. Their recollections shed light on the lives, love lives, and work of their superiors, …’ Female Administrators of the Third Reich, By Rachel Century · 2017