Old and young came together to pay their respects yesterday during a region-wide programme to mark Holocaust Memorial Day.
Audiences at Newcastle Civic Centre watched the debut of specially-written play One Small Case, which saw professional actors work with the local community while schoolchildren contributed to a display on this year’s theme Journey.
There’s a new theme every year for the UK’s annual programme of commemorative events to remember the millions killed during the Holocaust, as well as genocides across the world in Cambodia, Rwanda and Bosnia.
This time a station platform with suitcases and luggage labels set the scene to escort the audience on a journey during a performance which included the play, a film featuring real-life journeys by people from the North East and a new song. The Final Lullaby was composed by local talent Bridie Jackson about the Kindertransport rescue mission used just before the war by Jewish parents in a bid to save their children from the Nazi regime.
Amy Golding, artistic director of the Dance City-based theatre company Curious Monkey, which is producing the commemorative programme for the second year, said: “Last year we did it for the first time and it does feel like a huge responsibility.
“I think what is really challenging is knowing that for some people this is a very difficult and sad time and a lot of people will have personal experience or their friends will have had difficult times as a result of genocide or persecution.
“So how do you sensitively tackle all that in an artistic or theatrical way?”
The answer has been to commission writer Paddy Campbell, whose debut play Wet House was a recent hit at Live Theatre, to create One Small Case which combines three separate stories: telling of a boy sent to England as part of the Kindertransport scheme from Germany in 1938; a Rwandan asylum seeker, and a council bin man asked to compromise his principals.
Performing it for an audience including members of Gateshead’s Jewish community and local dignitaries was “an ensemble international cast, represent different communities,” said Amy. “The youngest is 15.”
It’s again proved a learning experience for all. Last year a young girl who took part in the Curious Monkey programme, then on the theme of Bridges, had known nothing of the background to such events.
But her feelings of shock and anger about what had happened gave way to an understanding of the “need to welcome people into the community and look after them” said Amy. “It was a beautiful learning process.”
She adds: “This time we had a woman talk to the cast whose father had been in a concentration camp and Paddy went to meet a lot of people when he was writing the piece.”
Yesterday, the audience could see a display of schoolchildren’s writing on the theme of journey, produced in a New Writing North project, before the event was opened by Rabbi Lipsey followed by the lighting of a candle and a minute’s silence .