People gathered in the hall accompanied by music performed by Coventry Music’s Brass quintet while overhead daylight streamed through the windows, casting a vivid winter glow on the assembly.
When all seats were taken, people stood shoulder to shoulder at the back of the magnificent hall, each one in solidarity showing dedication and commitment against evil.
The event began with welcomes by Councillor Abdul Salam Khan, Deputy Leader of Coventry City Council and Coventry Lord Mayor, Councillor Kevin Maton. They spoke about ordinary people in Coventry fighting hatred and Coventry’s commitment to peace and reconciliation. The audience was asked to “listen and then tell others what you have heard here”.
Then the first speaker was introduced.
Holocaust Survivor and Kinder Transport child John Fieldsend read out a letter written by his murdered parents, but only received by him after the war, saying their last goodbyes, telling him about their last journey to Belson and asking him to remember all his relatives that had been murdered.
He set the political scene for the Holocaust and then gave his own experience. John reminded us that following World War One, there was “civil war” and financial crisis in Germany. The civil war was between those who wanted Germany to have won and those who felt Germany should not have gone to war. The financial crisis was caused because of the war reparations Germany was forced to make after the war.
Germany was “ungovernable”. One failing government followed another. All this led to the rise of Hitler’ Nazi Party which rose to power in the early thirties, Germany was in a desperate state. Hitler was appointed Chancellor in January 1933, blaming “Dirty Jews” for all Germany’s ills. Within 18 months, Hitler had transformed a democracy to a dictatorship.
John described how he was bullied for being a Dirty Jew in Dresden. John’s Dad’s best friend became a member of the SS. After the 1938 peace treaty between the Chamberlain government and Germany, German troops moved into Czechoslovakia and bullying of John began again by fellow pupils and, even worse, by teachers. John said how precious are school anti-bullying policies in 2023.
This was very moving for everyone who was privileged to hear him.
Music from Coventry City Council’s “Voice Squad” brought time for reflection before the next speaker began. The song they sang was “Al Shloshar D’Varim” written by Allan E.Naplan. The words mean “The world is sustained by three things, by truth, by justice and by peace”.
After that, Dr Andrij Ilchychyn spoke about Holodomor during which 7 – 10 million Ukrainians died between 1932 and 1934 in Stalin’s Soviet Ukraine.
School children from Eden Girls School recited their own beautifully crafted soul-searching poems and Bianca Andrei, Coventry University Student Union Education Officer, talked about her visit to Auschwitz.
This part of the event terminated by Lighting of the Candle and Final Words from Councillor Khan then, after a short musical interlude from Coventry Music’s Brass quintet, there was a question and answer session with John Fieldsend and Dr Andrij Ilchychyn.
After the event Pru Porretta MBE, Director of Godiva Trust, suggested some questions she thinks we all need to ask ourselves:
- How does this kind of thing happen?
- Are we complicit by not doing anything if we can?
- Are some nations being brain-washed even today?
- Do some people become radicalised while others still deny this ever happened?
- And, most serious of all: could it happen again?
This article was written by members of Coventry Lord Mayor’s Committee for Peace and Reconciliation.