A service was held Saint Tydfil’s Parish Church, Merthyr Tydfil on Friday 27th January to commemorate and honour Holocaust Memorial Day. The Foundation for Jewish Heritage was represented by Neil Richardson, the recently appointed Project Manager for the Merthyr Synagogue project. The service, organised by Merthyr Tydfil Public Libraries, was attended by Councillor Geraint Thomas, Leader of Merthyr Tydfil Council, Councillor Declan Sammon, Mayor of Merthyr Tydfil, and Mrs MK Thomas, High Sheriff of Mid Glamorgan, as well as representatives of the police, the armed forces and the Royal Air Cadets, and people from the local community.
The theme of the service was ‘Pobl Gyffredin’, ‘Ordinary People’ – a reminder that every person has a responsibility to stand up and not stand by, and that extraordinary things can be achieved by ordinary people.
In the words of Sir Nicholas Winton, who rescued 669 children from Czechoslovakia during the Holocaust, ‘Why are you making such a big deal out of it? I just helped a little, I was in the right place at the right time.”
The service included a reading of Refugee Blues by WH Auden, which narrates the suffering of Jews by Nazis and their persecution, through the experience of a Jewish couple who escaped Nazi Germany and fled to the United States. The poignance of this poem, and its relevance, continues to have meaning through further conflict and the experience of modern-day refugees.
Readings were also given by Youth Mayor, Samee Furreed, and Deputy Youth Mayor, Katy Richards, recognising the importance of engaging young people, and ensuring that the collective memory of the Holocaust is passed on and valued by younger generations. Children are taught about the Holocaust as part of the Key Stage 3 History curriculum in England and Wales, and an ambitious project to encourage children to learn about the Holocaust through the personal experience and testimonies of young Welsh refugees has been developed for schools.
Recitals were given by Ynysowen Male Voice Choir, and by young musicians from the Cerys Driscoll Music School.
To commemorate the forgotten Gypsy/Roma Holocaust victims, young people from Gypsy Traveller community in Merthyr Tydfil created at artwork, ‘Many Stars in the Sight of God’, made up of illuminated stars, each representing 10,000 people lost, and with QR codes linked to augmented reality content and personal stories.
Merthyr Tydfil has the only Holocaust Memorial Garden in Wales, and during the prosperous years of the industrial revolution, and the heydays when Merthyr Tydfil was at the forefront of development, had the largest Jewish community in Wales.
Quote, “This was an important and moving service. All those who attended were invited to recite the ‘Statement of Commitment’, which reiterates the importance of remembrance, and of the duty of everyone to condemn the evils of prejudice, discrimination and racism.” Neil Richardson.