Said Anne Frank in her diary. I imagine she will be quoted often this week, as the world commemorates Holocaust Memorial Day and the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
Well, on Friday at City she lived after her death (in Bergen-Belsen, rather than Auschwitz, agonisingly close to the end of the war). Sixth Form pupils gave a remarkable assembly, commemorating the lives lost in the Holocaust, sharing individual family stories and reflecting on the importance of its legacy for the world and for us.
We were shown how arbitrary and fragile the gap between life and death can be. Ela in Year 12 told us of her great-grandmother and her husband, who escaped from Nazi Germany to (soon to be occupied) Belgium. One day in 1942, alone in her apartment, she was terrified to hear violent knocking on the door. Fearing it was the Gestapo, she agonised about whether to open the door or not. She left the decision to something external and random: the flight of stairs down to the front door. The first stair was ‘yes, open the door’, the next ‘don’t open it’ and so on. The last step of the stair landed on ‘don’t’. She fled back upstairs; the Gestapo went away and that evening she and her husband escaped to the Ardennes, where a family kept them in hiding and alive in a space under floorboards until the end of the war.
Almost certainly, that last step saved her life; most of the rest of her family died in the Holocaust. Her life depended on the number of steps in that staircase; that moment of incredible chance. As did her children's existence, her grandchildren's and her great-grandchildren’s; one of whom so eloquently told her story to the school and kept her ‘living even after ‘she was’ dead’. This is our duty and our privilege, to go on telling the history of the Holocaust; detailing the desperation, suffering, fear, cruelty, courage, heroism and survival of those involved in it, so they will never be lost.
This duty becomes more important as the numbers of living survivors diminish and as antisemitic hate-crime rises at a rate not seen since before the Second World War. For our school, with its long and proud history of diversity; its long and proud history of educating Jewish girls, it is profoundly important. The assembly offered memories and messages that we will never forget. City girls honour the responsibilities of our joint history, respect differences of culture and belief and do not, I believe, take their incredibly good fortune for granted. This is what education at CLSG is all about.
We lit candles in silence at the end of the assembly and will write messages this week on a remembrance ‘tree’ in the heart of the school. We will pause to be grateful for the respect and compassion that our school so proudly nurtures and the privilege of protecting the memories of those who lived before us.
Jenny Brown, Headmistress