A poignant reminder of the atrocities of the Holocaust and other past genocides was unveiled in Bury St Edmunds today.
Crowds gathered in the Abbey Gardens for the town’s annual Holocaust Memorial Day Service which coincided with the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and marked 21 years since the Rwandan Genocide and 20 years since Bosnia’s Srebrenica Massacre.
The Reverend Canon Matthew Vernon, sub-dean of St Edmundsbury Cathedral, said: “Here in peaceful Bury St Edmunds these appalling events can seem like a world away. So it’s our responsibility to use our imagination and to make that connection because all humanity is connected and we are all affected by these events.”
The new Peace Garden, formally opened today by Rabbi Danny Rich, chief executive of Liberal Judaism, provided a dignified setting for the service and will, it is hoped, help ‘keep the memory alive’ - the theme of this year’s service.
A stainless steel teardrop sculpture stands a metre and a half tall at the centre of the garden, surrounded by 57 cobble stones - one for each of the 57 Jews murdered in Bury on Palm Sunday in 1190 - and two benches to allow visitors a place for quiet reflection.
Rabbi Rich said the garden represented ‘the triumph of hope’ and ‘the possibility that hate can be overcome by goodwill, love and appreciation that it is one creator who created every human being and that every human soul - whether Jew or Christian or Muslim or Hindu or Sikh or of no faith - is as valuable as the next one’.
Addressing the many school children at the service, he said: “It’s important that we remind ourselves of those memories because the one thing we hope that you children will learn from history is to do better than we’ve done, that your generation and those who come after you will learn from the mistakes that previous generations have made and will create the type of world in which, ironically, a peace garden won’t be needed.”
Speaking after the service, Ricky Wilkinson, from Stowmarket, explained why today’s events brought back memories of his late aunt, Julia Donovan, a brave woman who ‘worked in the resistance’ and knew the Jewish Holocaust victim Anne Frank.
He said: “My aunt smuggled Jewish babies to safe houses in Amsterdam during the war and carried them on the back of her bike. She had no tyres so wrapped cloth and rags round the wheels so they didn’t make any noise. She said in all the time she saved these babies and carried them on her bike, none of them ever cried or drew attention.”
Ricky said his aunt, who lived in Bury until her death last year, returned a few years ago to meet some of the babies she had saved, many of whom had their bottoms tattooed so that they could be reunited with their parents, if they survived, after the war.
He also recalled how she used to distribute false papers and said she only escaped inspection by the Gestapo by ‘boldly’ demanding to speak with their commandant because she, a nurse, had a baby to deliver!
“When she got to the corner of the street she sank to her knees and collapsed - she was so frightened,” he said.
Explaining the significance of today for her, Avril Dawson, a quaker and chair of Bury’s Amnesty International group, said: “I lived in Israel for a while and met some of the Holocaust survivors.”
She said eating meals with people who had been tattooed with identification numbers, one of whom was unable to have children because of her treatment during the Holocaust, was something she would never forget.
“I think we all need to work for peace,” she said.