Thursday, February 2, 2023

Standing in others’ shoes for Holocaust Remembrance

As an ordinary person, can you put yourself into the shoes of those other ordinary people who have suffered – and continue to suffer – the consequences of prejudice and hate?

Can you fathom the scale of loss of the millions of ordinary people whose life journeys have been cut short by the devastation of holocaust, genocide, and persecution? And can you imagine the journeys millions of ordinary people have been on in securing the safety, security, freedoms or confidence in identity they enjoy today?

For Holocaust Memorial Day, North Kesteven District Council is holding a commemorative event that invites ordinary people to pause, reflect, remember and commit themselves to standing up against prejudice, intolerance and hatred.

In identifying ‘ordinary people’ as its theme for this Holocaust Memorial Day, the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust is making the point that ordinary people like us have the capacity to both facilitate genocide by turning a blind eye, believing propaganda or being suspicious of difference; but also the capacity to stop it by standing up to hatred, speaking out against persecution and challenging prejudice.

Council leader Cllr Richard Wright said: “By understanding the plight of others, having awareness of their journeys and making the right choices with regard to the marginalised or misrepresented, ordinary people today can achieve extraordinary things through their actions.

“We are seeing that across so many areas of community life right now; in the selfless ways ordinary people are supporting each other through current financial challenges and the exceptional warmth and unquestioning generosity of hundreds of people in welcoming displaced Ukrainians into their homes.”

From 4pm on Thursday, January 26, you are invited to join in a short event in the Courtyard of the Council offices at Eastgate, Sleaford – putting yourself into the shoes of those who have been displaced by war, conflict and genocide and whose lives have been cut short or impacted by prejudice, persecution or exposure for being ‘other than ordinary’.

Taking shoes as a symbol of the journeys millions of ordinary people have been on – including long hard journeys of displacement from their country as evacuees of war, or journeys of self-identity simply to be themselves – attendees are asked to bring used shoes to place in a commemorative gesture.

These could be:

  • old, worn-out shoes that have reached the end of the road but tell of a journey;
  • worn shoes with potential to begin another journey, to be donated to the British Red Cross to continue bringing hope for someone in need or for sale to extend humanitarian aid; or
  • out-grown but still functional school shoes for onward donation to a family in hardship to help a child on their journey of education and discovery.

Tags will be available to write a message, a dedication or to detail the shoes’ story and candles will be lit as the shoes are placed and prayers said at the courtyard fountain. The event will conclude before 5pm.

Starting at 4.15pm, it is open to all within the community and may hold a particular appeal to those who are engaged in challenging intolerance, prejudice or hatred, who strive for community cohesion, support people to personal fulfilment or are perhaps offering shelter and refuge to those displaced from their home in Ukraine.

The next day, on Holocaust Memorial Day itself – which commemorates the liberation of Auschwitz on January 27, 1945 – there will be a space in the gallery at the Hub in Sleaford to continue contributing to the shoes, with shoes for donation to the William Alvey School or the British Red Cross particularly welcomed.

This commemoration is inspired by the Shoes on the Danube Bank memorial to 20,000 executed Jews shot into the river and informed by the poignance of images of piles of shoes amassed in the death camps, the symbolism of shoes with regard to journeys and the sheer ordinariness of shoes.

Councillor Wright continued: “It will prompt us to consider how ordinary people, such as ourselves, can perhaps play a bigger part than we might imagine in challenging prejudice today.

“As ordinary people today, who can be extraordinary in our actions, we can all make decisions to challenge prejudice, stand up to hatred, to speak out against identity-based persecution, to shop responsibly and to effect positive change.”

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