OPINION: A tangible memorial to all those who simply refused to stand by

OPINION: A tangible memorial to all those who simply refused to stand by

Olivia Marks-Woldman Holocaust Memorial Day Trust Chief Executive
Olivia Marks-Woldman Holocaust Memorial Day Trust Chief Executive

by Olivia Marks-Woldman, Chief executive, Holocaust Memorial Day Trust 

 Olivia Marks-Woldman Holocaust Memorial Day Trust Chief Executive
Olivia Marks-Woldman Holocaust Memorial Day Trust Chief Executive

Many JEWISH NEWS readers will have family members, as I do, who came to the UK in the late 19th or early 20th centuries. One such family were the Bournes, Sydney and Golda, who had come separately from Russia as children and later married and established themselves in the London suburbs, running a dress shop in Neasden. By the 1930s, they had two young children. Perhaps due to the pressures of running a business and bringing up a family, somehow Sydney forgot to tell Golda that he had agreed to foster a teenager. Golda discovered this commitment only when 13-year-old Susanne Flanter turned up on her doorstep with Sydney.

Why had Bourne taken this step? What had prompted him to agree to take in an unknown teenager, with all the difficulties this could cause with their toddlers, with the expense, with the family status quo?

Flanter was Jewish and German, and had been offered a place on the Kindertransport, the scheme established after Kristallnacht. Bourne must have been aware of the dangers faced by Jews in Germany and the growing threat of the Nazis. He chose not to stand by in the face of this violent persecution, but to offer his home to one of the young refugees.

From her new home with the Bournes, Flanter communicated with her parents in Berlin – until the letters stopped. She found out her father had been taken to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, and later discovered both parents had been deported to Minsk, where they died. Flanter, safe with the Bournes, grew up in Britain, married Gerry Kenton and travelled widely with him, bringing up their family in Wembley.

On Holocaust Memorial Day 2016, we remember and honour the Bournes, and all those who did not stand by to prejudice and persecution. The theme the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust has chosen for this year’s commemorations is Don’t Stand By. We chose it as we know the Holocaust did not come out of nowhere: it happened because local populations allowed insidious persecution to take root.

The vast majority of people stood by silently – at best, afraid to speak out; at worst, indifferent. Bystanders enabled the Holocaust, Nazi persecution, and subsequent genocides. They tolerated cultures where increasingly punitive and oppressive discrimination and hostile policies could separate populations and ultimately lead to ethnic cleansing, destruction and attempted annihilation of whole communities.

And we chose it so we can honour all the brave individuals who refused to be bystanders. Not only the Bournes, and of course Sir Nicholas Winton, who provided homes for child refugees. But those who in many other ways did not stand by.

Across the UK, local Holocaust Memorial Day activities are profiling people such as Carl Wilkens, living and working in Rwanda at the outbreak of the genocide, who disobeyed the instructions of his American employer to evacuate as he felt he couldn’t abandon the Tutsi people who worked with his family.

All of us can do something to show we are not standing by. It’s not only heroic acts of rescue but the small things we can all do that make a positive difference. Reporting incidents of hostility or hatred based on ethnicity, faith or other characteristic, contributing to Flames for Humanity’s Heroes, our new online gallery honouring those who did not stand by in the past, or marking Holocaust Memorial Day, we can all play a part in creating a better future.

        Ask your children what they learnt from their Holocaust Memorial Day activities at school, attend your borough’s ceremony, watch our short film with Holocaust survivor Susan Pollack, and talk to your work colleagues about Susanne Flanter, who was given a safe home in a London suburb after Kristallnacht.

On Holocaust Memorial Day this year, more than 3,600 activities will be held across the UK, in libraries, galleries and civic centres. This is an astonishing number of local events, which will be complemented by the broadcast on BBC2 of the UK ceremony.

Holocaust Memorial Day will enable people to learn about bystanders who let the Holocaust and subsequent genocides take place and about the people who refused to stand by and allow incremental, legalised discrimination.

Holocaust Memorial Day will call everyone to action, demanding that we ‘Don’t Stand By’.

read more: