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With Holocaust Memorial Day just passed, it seems appropriate to reflect upon some of the atrocities that have taken place in our modern history. The Holocaust – a word which originates from a number of different languages that can mean ‘burn’, ‘catastrophe’ or ‘destruction’ – was the mass murder of approximately six million Jews, as well as many others who were deemed to be inferior due to their race, disability or sexual oritentation, under the Nazi regime. The Holocaust is modern history’s most disturbing example of how prejudice and hatred can lead to disastrous consequences, and how easily persuaded a nation of people can be to participate in such horrific events. Millions of Jews were separated from their families, forced to endure back-breaking labour in concentration camps, to suffer unspeakable cruelty; to be victims of irrational, intense hatred in a country they had once called home.
Everybody knows the tragic story of the Holocaust. However, it is more than a story of the Jew’s suffering, it is a poignant reminder that these atrocities should never be allowed to occur again. The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust is a charity which, according to their website, aims to raise awareness of Holocaust Memorial Day on the 27th January each year, and encourages people to hold activities and raise awareness within their communities. As the website says, memorial day “provides an opportunity for everyone to learn lessons from the Holocaust, Nazi persecution and subsequent genocides and apply them to the present day to create a safer, better future”.
Holocaust Memorial Day has taken place in the United Kingdom since 2001, after being established in 2000, when representatives from forty-four different governments joined together to discuss Holocaust education, remembrance and research. The website states that “at the end of this meeting, all attendees signed a declaration committing to preserving the memory of those who have been murdered in the Holocaust, under Nazi persecution and in subsequent generations”, and this commitment still forms the basis of Holocaust Memorial activities today.
Those who were fortunate enough to survive the Holocaust have many touching stories of the loss and heartbreak that they suffered in the hands of the Nazi’s, and some of these people travelled as far as the Lake District in their search for a new life. Lancaster embraced Holocaust Memorial Day this year by displaying an exhibition entitled ‘From Auschwitz to Ambleside’, which tells the story of a handful of lucky children who were saved from camps and flew from Prague to find a new home in the Lake District. Alongside the exhibiton was biographical film of one brave man, who lived to tell the incredible tale of how, from the age of 10 years old, he managed to survive being shipped from camp to camp and escape the fate of his peers at the hands of Auschwitz. The children who came to the Lake District arrived on the 14th August 1945, having flown from Prague and landed at Crosby on the Eden airport near Carlisle before being taken to a place named the Calgarth Estate, near Windermere.
The exhibition stated that “their ages ranged from as young as four years old to around eighteen years of age, but many of their actual birth dates and details had been lost during their time in captivity.” These children had been kept captive in ghettos and concentration camps for many years and had been used for slave labour, apparently “a significant number had experiences in camps including Auschwitz Birkenau”, and their arrival was described by many of them as like arriving “in Paradise”.
The Calgarth Estate was originally built for the single workers who were employed at the nearby aircraft factory, and by the end of 1942 “there was a complete community with a primary school, two shops, a canteen, assembly hall, clubhouse, laundry, sick bay, policeman and a football team”. The children stayed in the Lake District for up to six months before they were relocated to various hostels and homes across Britain. The photos provided in the exhibition were discovered in an archive in 2009, and they show the Jewish children who had lived on the estate.
Trevor Avery, Direct of the Lake District Holocaust Project, provided SCAN with an article he wrote entitled ‘From Hell to Paradise’, and states that there were around three hundred Jewish children who came to the Lake District in 1945. “Their stay in the Lake District turned out to be the beginnings of new lives for the children. The time spent amongst the lakes and mountains of old Westmorland was in fact a valuable staging post on their journey towards new opportunities that were a world away from their previous, tragic lives.” As a result of the importance of the Lake District and it’s remarkable connection with the Holocaust, Avery states that there is a Lake District Holocaust Project, which produces and maintains the exhibition and archive base in Windermere Library and “shines a light on the community who welcomed them”. The number of visitors to the exhibition is ever growing, and the Windermere exhibition is to be expanded in 2013. Avery states that there is huge interest in the project, and “most are drawn to the exhibition by an overwhelming sense of curiosity that such an exhibition should be seen in the tourist honey pot of the Lake District”. He mentions Minia Jay, a teenage girl when she arrived almost 70 years ago, who recalled the Calgarth estate fondly, saying “whenever I return here I feel so special, I remember it all so well and how good it was to be here”.
Credit to Another Space/45 Aid Society for the images provided.