Last year North West Surrey Synagogue inaugurated a programme to educate secondary school students about the Holocaust, replicating the annual Holocaust Memorial Day project model run by Kingston Liberal Synagogue and Kingston & Surbiton District Synagogue .
Held on Holocaust Memorial Day and two additional days, the innovative sessions featured a film, a survivor testimony and break-out discussion sessions. Over 500 students from Surrey participated.
In 2017, NWSS hosted the programme again, with morning and afternoon sessions from 24 January to 27 January. The theme this year was ‘How Can Life Go On?’ Speakers included Beatrice Gould, Marion Strehlow and Annick Lever.
A total of 530 students attended sessions from Heathside School, Rydens School, and St. Peter’s Catholic School.
On Wednesday 25 January, the synagogue welcomed visitors from Heathside School.
Sixteen year old Josh Shelley, the grandson of NWSS member Jill Attfield, assumed the daunting role of presenter for some of the sessions. In his opening remarks to the students, Josh explained that “For Holocaust Memorial Day 2017 we are asking you to consider the question ‘How can life go on?’ Just imagine permanently losing something very precious to you… a member of your family, your health, your home, your country, your future. For ever after you would be scarred, certainly mentally and perhaps physically. You could end up a bitter and vengeful victim; but you could turn out to be a resilient and optimistic survivor. How could live go on? What can we do to give others, whose lives seem to have come to a full stop, the strength and will to start again”.
Marion Strehlow, who was incarcerated in Theresienstadt concentration camp from the age of five until her liberation at age eleven then spoke about her experiences, followed by an opportunity for questions from the students.
The students then broke into discussion groups followed by a screening of the film ‘Learning from the Past’.
The final segment of the programme incorporated the custom of lighting a memorial candle to remember those who have died. Each student lit a candle, and then handed a personal message card they had written to Mrs. Strehlow.
At the conclusion of the session, Josh Shelley commented: “HMD is a very emotional and special day, and I was delighted to be the presenter. It is a day when children, adults and survivors all meet. It makes a huge difference in helping all of us understand the Holocaust. It was a day in which I was extremely proud to participate”.
Teacher Nick Wentland, from Heathside, said: “The Heathside students were honoured to take part in Holocaust Memorial Day at North West Surrey Synagogue. The students were fascinated to learn about Mrs. Strehlow’s experiences during the Holocaust. It was very hard for them to comprehend how such a young child could have endured such terrible treatment. The lesson the pupils will take with them is Mrs. Strehlow’s perspective that even after all she experienced, she did not feel any hate for her persecutors”.