Pupils from a selection of East Ayrshire Schools gathered to show their respect and share experiences in Council HQ Chambers for Holocaust Memorial Day.
Students from Kilmarnock Academy, St Josephs and Loudoun Academies and Park School all gave very varied and moving presentations about their experiences and research into the Holocaust, their visits to the death camps in Europe.
Interspersed with their testimonies, Councillors Ian Grant, John McGhee, Elena Whitham and Cabinet Member for Equalities, Councillor Clare Maitland all gave readings with personal stories from survivors and personal experiences.
In a moving culmination to the event, representatives joined to light candles and hold a minute’s silence to remember all those who’ve been lost and suffered from the Holocaust and subsequent genocides.
Jason from Park School had already visited Aushwitz on a previous trip but felt it was too much information to take in the first time. So he welcomed the chance to visit a second time. He said:
“The first time I went it was a powerful experience. It had a big effect on me. I thought I knew how I would feel to go back, but I was still very shocked. It felt like I had a verbal paralysis. I was listening, and watching, taking everything in but I couldn’t say anything.”
His schoolmate Jack summed up his experiences: “I was shocked how big it was, I felt sad when we walked through the gate which says “work makes you free” because these were normal people with normal lives, they didn’t know what was going to happen, they even brought their shoe polish. I’m still upset by what I saw but it’s good to remember what happened and make sure that it never happens again.”
Victims of more recent genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia were also remembered, with Councillor Maitland imploring everyone to recognise that no one leaves their home or country easily, that “racism and discrimination haven’t ended and we should all take care with the way we speak and treat people. We can’t rest on our laurels and assume we’re fine. We should never forget the quote that “for evil to flourish it only requires good men to do nothing”
She continued: “It’s really heartening to witness the passion of these young people, who have undertaken serious studies, embraced the past, and are using their experiences and lessons learned to spread the word. We can be proud of our schools and these young individuals who are doing what they can to foster greater understanding and equality within their own spheres. Many of them are now returning to their schools to do presentations to their fellow students. And for the rest of their lives they will carry a better understanding of the world and stick up for what is right and fair. It’s good to see some hope for the future emerge from a very dark and ongoing history.”