For HMD 2012, Kim Strickson and her team at Kirklees Council held Conversations in Kirklees. The event on 24 January was a culmination of projects with groups of adults and children from across Kirklees who shared conversations about speaking up for others who are different. We spoke to Kim after her successful event to find out more about the process of putting together her programme.
How did you come up with the inspiration for your activity?
We have a number of groups that we work with throughout the year and a lot of our core work and programmes fit in with the values of HMD, about difference, sharing history and culture and working for a better future. Last year we met with the Roma community in Dewsbury and they were interested in becoming involved. There were also a lot of education and community based groups which is how we came up with the framework for our HMD 2012 Speak Up, Speak Out activity, the idea of having conversations with each other.
Can you tell us about the conversations?
Eight projects culminated in the HMD event where different groups shared film, music and presentations in an atmosphere of respect, hope and mutual support. It was a space to speak and get to know each other and anticipate where the fractures appear in the community. There was also a musical conversation and an image conversation and then of course there were actual table conversations.
There were eight conversations altogether. One of them took the form of two Muslim students talking to two Holocaust survivors. The students listened to the personal stories of the survivors and talked to them about Albanian Muslims who sheltered Jews during the Holocaust. The survivors hadn’t known anything about this, it was a lovely exchange. They worked their conversation piece into the event and of course they knew each other well enough by then. It was a good way of attracting a Muslim audience who wanted to know more. They heard about it through other people or saw it on the posters. Albanians Muslims have a code of honour called ‘Besa’ which means to be a protector of life - whether it is a neighbour or someone they have had coffee with. Albania was the only country that had more Jewish people at the end of the war. They didn’t betray anyone; no one was handed in and for the most part this was successful.
What other groups did you engage?
Another amazing aspect of the Speak Up, Speak Out conversations was the conversation between a group of Hungarian Roma children and children from Thornhill School in Kirklees. They sang and played games together and did a bit of drama, but the main part was that they taught each other a song. The Roma children shared their Roma anthem “Djelem, Djelem”. The song was written after the persecution experienced by the Roma during World War II and is sung by Roma people all over the world. Then the children from Kirklees taught a song about working together and they both sang together and had a conversation piece on stage. Because Roma children participated in the event , quite a lot of parents came too and they appreciated that the persecution of the Roma people was being acknowledged in this way.
What other elements did you include?
There was also a musical piece from a school music group that looked at music in the concentration camps. Music was used in the concentration camps to make everything look normal and also to keep inmates calm as they went to the gas chambers. We gave the young people a photo from Westerbork of the orchestra and we now know that the orchestra were gassed. We asked the young people to create a musical piece from the image and it was really moving. It was right at the end of the event and it really touched people. It was just the music.
Did you feel that the event made an impact?
Yes it did and we saw that in the evaluation. People were really positive about the event. It was good to talk about the Roma community as the persecution that the Roma people faced is not well known and it is very important.
Some of the children had lovely things to say and were proud to sing with one another. The parents of the Roma children were also really proud and happy that their culture was being acknowledged and it was great to see them there.
So you sought feedback on your activity?
Yes we received some good feedback, both participants and the audience enjoyed the event. There was no keynote speaker, we had young people and students from the local college on stage on the night introducing all the guests. They made a few mistakes but people forgave them and it was a lovely, informal atmosphere.
We decided to seat people in tables not rows so that people would have to do an activity and perhaps get a drink together. Presenters were in amongst the audience and it made it a more interesting and close environment.
We also brought people together from different faiths to see what their faith said about speaking up for someone else. They shared readings from religious texts and stories and had a thought provoking conversation about when it is right or appropriate to speak up and what language to use when we do. Some of these quotes and thoughts were later combined with pictures and images and shared throughout the HMD event as people come forward to light the candles of remembrance.
The only criticism was that the event was too big and therefore too long, so we are going to do it differently this year. But the quality of each of the conversations and the people, especially how the young people responded was just brilliant.
What did you find challenging?
Our challenges were mainly logistical. It was lovely working with different groups in their own neighbourhoods but difficult to get everyone together in one space for a rehearsal. It was really about sorting it out on the day. It was great that everyone got to meet each other but it was slightly challenging and chaotic on the day. Another challenge is getting the balance right between making it relevant to people in Kirklees now but still rooting it in the Holocaust. There has never been anything like it and it is about making it relevant to the present day and the people that live here.
From your experience what would advise people who want to organise a HMD event?
I think that it is important to start by looking at the Holocaust and making connections between those historical events and your own community. It is important to think about who you want to come and why and whether it will work best as one event or a series of events. You should plan it to be accessible and relevant to your audience and something that will interest them. It is essential to involve people in the event too. You should think outside the box, there are all sorts of things happening in the community which connect to HMD and the annual theme. It is important to look at what the audience will get out of it and to have a clear message that will affect what people do day to day, rather than just on one day every January. In Kirklees, we finish one set of HMD projects and immediately start preparing for the next. The process never ends. It is also good to think about funding and setting a budget aside for the event or starting a fund raising campaign early on.
It is good to think ahead. For example, in September we had a meal where Roma and Albanian people, artists and schools shared a Hungarian mean to kick start Holocaust Memorial Day this year and it was such a good way to start.
For HMD 2013, Kirklees marked HMD with ‘Bridge after Bridge’. Participants were given passports and invited to embark on a journey between different cultures. They were challenged to learn about building bridges between communities, as they remembered the events of the Holocaust. You can see images of Kirklees HMD 2013.