A Holocaust survivor lit Scotland’s first Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary candle at an Ayr secondary school on 27 January as school pupils come together to mark Holocaust Memorial Day 2015.
Ela Weissberger (84) – one of 100 children (out of 15,000) who survived the Terezin concentration camp – lit one of only 70 special candles designed by Turner prize winner Sir Anish Kapoor, and the first in Scotland, created to mark the 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau on 27 January 1945.
The candle-lighting – at Kyle Academy– took place as people and communities across the world get set to ‘keep the memory alive’ for Holocaust Memorial Day 2015.
Ela, alongside Hasan Hasanović – a survivor of the Srebrenica genocide in Bosnia – then joined South Ayrshire Provost Helen Moonie and Right Honourable Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland at Ayr Town Hall for the national Holocaust Memorial Day event in the evening.
Holocaust Memorial Day takes place on 27 January each year and this year’s theme focuses on memory, asking people to remember the millions of people murdered – and honour those who survived – during the Holocaust, Nazi Persecution and in subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.
The 2015 event also marked the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau and the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre.
Ela and Hasan (39) – one of only 3,500 men (out of an estimated 10-15,000) who survived a gruelling march from Srebrenica to Tuzla to avoid being massacred by Bosnian Serb forces – shared their extraordinary experiences at both the school and national events.
The national Holocaust Memorial Day event in Ayr Town Hall featured moving musical performances, and presentations from school pupils who recently visited Auschwitz.
Ela and Hasan detailed their very personal and emotional experiences of being part of the Holocaust.
and the Srebrenica genocide.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “The purpose of Holocaust Memorial Day is that if we understand the very worst consequences of intolerance and prejudice, we are less likely to accept them in today’s society. Remembering the Holocaust, and subsequent genocides, is an honour we owe to the victims – and it’s also a duty we owe to ourselves.
“Scotland’s diversity is one of our greatest strengths. We are proud to be a home to people of all faiths and none, and the tartan of our national identity has many colours and many strands. One step we can take to create the Scotland we want to see is to remember, reflect on and honour the victims of the Holocaust and other genocides.
“That’s why we support projects such as Lessons from Auschwitz; it’s why the efforts of individuals such as Ela and Hasan are so important; and it’s why the Scottish Government is proud to be able to support this Holocaust Memorial Day Service.”
South Ayrshire Provost Helen Moonie said: “We’re very honoured to host Holocaust Memorial Day in this special anniversary year and humbled to hear Ela and Hasan’s stories. Their horrific experiences show us why we must never forget and why we must do all we can to keep the memory alive.
“Our motto in South Ayrshire is ne’er forget the people, so it’s the perfect fit with the ethos of this event and reminds us that people matter and we must not allow the obliteration of generations in this way ever again. I’ll certainly be passing on the stories I’ve heard today, which makes me a Memory Maker, and I would encourage others to do the same.”
Dr. Maureen Sier, Director of Interfaith Scotland, added: “Interfaith Scotland has been honoured to facilitate the national events for Holocaust Memorial Day, recognising that – sadly – the world has not yet learnt the lessons of the Holocaust and subsequent genocides.
“All of us have a grave responsibility to work for a more peaceful, tolerant and understanding world. Holocaust Education and Interfaith Dialogue are two powerful tools that can be used to awaken in us the compassion and understanding that is needed to heal our broken world. This week I will be remembering my husband’s grandparents, who were sadly murdered in the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau along with millions of others.”