Schools across MK attend Genocide Memorial Day

    Last week Sir Herbert Leon Academy held its annual Genocide Memorial Day, and dedicated its Silent Soldier statue. This event was attended not just by the school’s own students but also schools across Milton Keynes, Bucks and Northants.

    Also attending was local MP Iain Stewart and Mayor of Milton Keynes Cllr Martin Petchey.

    Sponsored by Remembering Srebrenica and the Holocaust Educational Trust, speakers included those who have had personal experience of genocide, and their stories explain the effect that it has had on them, their families, and their friends.

    The most obvious example of genocide in the 20th Century was, of course, the Holocaust and representing that generation was Harry Olmer, a holocaust survivor. Paul Salver, History Teacher and organiser of this event commented “The remaining survivors are, of course, now well into their 80s and 90s, and for our current students this may well be the last time that they will hear the very emotional and moving testimony of one of these remarkable individuals and the very powerful message that he will express.”

    “Sadly, there have been later instances of genocide, such as in Rwanda, Bosnia and latterly in Syria.  Representing more recent events we will have two speakers – one not much older than many of our students - relating their very personal experiences of the conflict in Bosnia.”, he said.

    Representing those later instances was Lejla Damon and Professor Jon Silverman. Lejla was born on Christmas day 1992 and was the result of her mother being raped by multiple Bosnian Serb soldiers during the war there following the break-up of Yugoslavia. Jon is a respected former BBC journalist and academic who reported extensively on the Bosnian genocide.

    Harry – despite being over 90 – stood and spoke for over an hour without notes about his experiences as a boy much the same age as his student audience about how he and his family were taken from their homes and made to work for the Nazis in various concentration camps. Many of his family did not survive. Jon spoke about his own very personal experiences as a witness to the Bosnian and later conflicts, and how an apparently tolerant and mutually respectful community can quickly break down so that former friends and neighbours suddenly become enemies intent on murdering each other simply because of religious or tribal differences. Lejla – only 8 years older than some of the students – expressed her hope that her own experiences would not be repeated. Their respective stories were so compelling that over 200 normally very lively teenagers sat respectfully in silence for almost four hours.

    Leon sixth form students spoke of their experiences of visiting Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland and Srebrenica, site of the Bosnian genocide. They talked of how what they saw there deeply affected them and how this totally altered their attitudes and their view of life. Leon students also attended the national Remembering Srebrenica commemoration held at The Guildhall in London on 11th July, the 23rd anniversary of those terrible events.

    Anna Lloyd of the Holocaust Educational Trust commented that the event “was a great success…Harry was so pleased to be part of it”. Barbara Reuban, who accompanied Harry was “so impressed”. Jane Smith, Head of 6th Form at Northampton Academy said “I just wanted to say thank you for the opportunity to participate in your Genocide Memorial Day. It was really well organized and such a valuable opportunity for our Sixth Form students. All speakers were excellent and the student contributions from your Academy were outstanding.”

    Sir Herbert Leon Academy used the occasion to reveal their ‘Silent Soldier’ statue. Unveiled by Milton Keynes South MP Iain Stewart, this status is part of a national scheme run by the British Legion to commemorate the centenary of the end of the First World War, this statue was entirely paid for by fund raising activities by students and staff. In November this year the statue will be dedicated to the memory of a local serviceman who died in that great conflict, and the academy would love to hear from a local family who lost someone who lived in the Bletchley or Fenny Stratford area and who fought and died in that terrible war.

    Last week Sir Herbert Leon Academy held its annual Genocide Memorial Day, and dedicated its Silent Soldier statue. This event was attended not just by the school’s own students but also schools across Milton Keynes, Bucks and Northants. Also attending was local MP Iain Stewart and Mayor of Milton Keynes Cllr Martin Petchey.

    Sponsored by Remembering Srebrenica and the Holocaust Educational Trust, speakers included those who have had personal experience of genocide, and their stories explain the effect that it has had on them, their families, and their friends.

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