Keeping the Memory Alive: Remembering the Holocaust in Kingston
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau and the closure of one of the darkest hours in human history. Yet seven decades on the wounds of the Holocaust remain open. Despite the murder of some six million Jews and many others from persecuted groups, such as communists, homosexuals, gypsies and the disabled, brutality, prejudice and cruelty sadly persist in human affairs. The genocides in Darfur, Bosnia, Cambodia and Rwanda, to give just a few examples, remind us of the human capacity for evil. And the hate crimes visited on minority groups in our own country, including members of Islamic, Sikh and Jewish communities, demonstrate the enduring tendency in human nature to stigmatise and attack those who are different. With respect to the Holocaust, there are still plenty of voices that deny that it ever took place.
Recognising the need for remembrance and the building of a just community, Kingston has, for many years, held an event in the Guildhall to mark Holocaust Memorial Day. The occasion has been one in which the memory of those who lost their lives in the Holocaust and other genocides can be honoured and the local community can express its solidarity with those who have been persecuted and oppressed. Given the special anniversary this year, a decision was taken to run a competition to encourage the creation of artworks that might help us better remember the Holocaust and convey a message of hope for the future. The Faith and Spirituality service at Kingston University assisted in this process by organising the Keeping the Memory Alive through Art event.
How can art possibly do justice to the scale, intensity and horror of the Holocaust? Bringing creativity out of such destruction may seem an impossible task. Yet, despite its formidable content, a large number of artists have endeavoured to describe and interpret the Holocaust. They have taken many approaches and used a variety of techniques, including both figurative and abstract methods, and a range of media. Some pieces, such as the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin, have been created as memorials in that they seek to honour the memory of those who were murdered. Then there are works that can best be described as cries. They offer a picture of pain, anguish and protest, sometimes indicting those who failed to assist those in peril, including, sadly, the Christian church. Other works might be regarded as prayers. They evoke a sense of the sacred, prompt reflection and trigger transcendent longing.
Inspired by the work of the many artists who had presented the Holocaust, the entrants to the University’s competition produced some astonishing works. Submissions were received from local schools, the College of Further Education, students at the University and other members of the community. Many different techniques were utilised, including, painting, drawing, fabric printing, ceramics, digital animation and graphic design. The results were a credit to the creativity and imagination of those involved for they offered an eloquent and often moving way to both honour the past and imagine a more hopeful future.
Prizes, in the form of art shop vouchers, were awarded by the University and presented to the winners at by the Deputy Mayor, Councillor Cathy Roberts, at the civic commemoration of Holocaust Memorial Day in the Guildhall earlier this year. This was a memorable event with the Council Chambers packed with those coming to participate in the ceremony. The artwork from the Keeping the Memory Alive through Art competition, a selection of which can be seen below, was widely admired. Its creation and reception demonstrated that, for all the worrying tensions that continue to surface in our society, there remains a desire to learn the lessons from history and shape a brighter world for the future.
A selection of work from the Keeping the Memory Alive through Art competition will be on display at Kingston Museum and Kingston College during March and April 2015. For details, see the project website.
The Revd. Andrew Williams is Kingston University Faith Advisor
Note from the Editors:
An earlier version of this post contained an inaccurate phrase regarding concentration camps in Nazi occupied Poland, which has now been corrected. The author and editors would like to thank readers who pointed out this mistake, and apologise for causing any offence.