Newport Girls' High School

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Be The Light In The Darkness (HMD 2021)

27 January 2021


As a designated Beacon School for Holocaust Education, NGHS takes time to pause and reflect on Holocaust Memorial Day each year as well as ensuring that a new focus is delivered in lessons. This year, one of our Beacon School Ambassadors, Catherine (Year 12) has written a thought-provoking blog entitled 'Be The Light In The Darkness', which is printed below. Students in Years 8-9 have also written stanzas relating to a poem written by Holocaust survivor Leon Greenman. Our Beacon School Ambassadors are also running a competition inside school to receive artwork, photographs or poems/prose related to this year's theme. 

Click here to see the work produced this week.

‘Be the light in the darkness’ - a phrase that many of us have heard in our lives but what does it mean? How can we be the light? What does it mean by darkness? Are all decisions as simple as black and white? Well, not really. It is hard to categorise decisions especially when they seem to be difficult or controversial. But being the light isn’t always about making the right choice, especially when sometimes it doesn’t seem like there is one; it’s about adding positivity and hope to unfavourable situations.

The prejudice that enabled the Holocaust was akin to a pandemic; spread not by a virus but by the myths and rumours of people filled with the mistaken belief that they were superior to others. The hatred that fed and enabled the Holocaust and the organised murder of millions of lives was a result of centuries of prejudice and marginalization that presented Jewish people as ‘the other’, a threat that was born of out of ignorance.  This type of classification of people and ‘them and us’ thinking is typical of the first stage of genocide.

Now how does being a light link to the Holocaust?  One of the most tragic parts of the Holocaust is the fact that we still don’t know how exactly how many lives were claimed or what happened to each of the six million individuals who entered the Nazi death camps but did not leave. This is the darkness; the horror of the act of genocide, the loss of innocent life along with concealment of this crime and the attempt to erase the evidence of the lives of the individuals who were killed from history.  It is important that we remember and reflect on this darkness, that we shine a light through our remembrance; a protest against forgetfulness of what occurred.

Another light in the darkness is in the fact that despite the countless tragedies that took place, many lives were saved through the courageous acts of numerous selfless people. An example of one of these selfless people is Johan Van Hulst. Johan Van Hulst was a teacher who saved hundreds of Jewish children by hiding them in baskets and sacks. They were then transported out of Amsterdam by bicycle. These children were saved by Van Hulst and his colleagues during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.

In 2008 a museum called ‘The Silent Heroes Memorial Centre’, was set up in Berlin to honour the lights in the darkness who risked their lives to save others. ‘The Silent Heroes Memorial Centre’ commemorates more than 27,000 women and men who risked their lives to aid those seeking protection. People like Johan Van Hulst are the perfect examples of what I would consider about being the light. Perhaps a definition of the being the light in the darkness could be to save those who are being oppressed or to help others when they need it.

So how can we be the light in the modern world. Fortunately, there’s a simple solution to this: to be the light we need to understand what darkness is. In this tumultuous year, to say the least, we have all experienced loneliness, exhaustion and anxiety. These are all examples of darkness in our lives. Furthermore, in the year 2020 there has a huge effort in the Black Lives Matter movement. Mass protests took place globally to show that the murder of Black people in the streets was not acceptable.  Personally, I see darkness in those who judge or murder people as a result of skin colour and religion. To the millions of people who took to the streets and signed numerous petitions to display the importance of this movement, you radiate light. The death of George Floyd instigated a world wide movement and brought awareness to other unnecessary deaths of Black, Indigenous, and other people of colour (BIPOC). The fight for equality for all people has lasted centuries but thanks to all those who contributed, we seem to be closer to equality for all.  Further light in the darkness can be seen in the recent attempts by the House of Lords to act against countries who are committing genocide in the twenty-first century through their proposed amendment to the Trade Bill via a genocide clause which would have forced ministers to withdraw from any free trade agreement with any country which the High Court rules is committing genocide.  Whilst it is deeply disappointing that this amendment failed to pass, the close vote of 319 to 308, the rebellion of some backbenchers to vote against their leader in support of the amendment and the reporting of the vote in the mainstream media all demonstrate that a light is being shone on modern day genocides and some of those you wield power are attempting to make ‘never again’ a reality rather than a catchphrase.

So what’s the answer, how can we be the light in the darkness? Well from a simple text to check up on our friend or family to supporting those who need our help, we as individuals can do much to brighten up not only our lives but the lives of our friends and family. The importance of the little things should never be underestimated. To be the light in the darkness, you don’t have to save lives or provide solutions to everyone’s problems, you can simply provide companionship. We can also continue to pressure those in power to act against the darkness of discrimination and prejudice.  Finally, we can ensure that in our daily lives and interactions we are not bystanders to hatred; that we challenge the ignorance, misinformation and lies that lead to a ‘them and us’ mentality and that we ourselves are critical consumers of information in a world where a lie or a harmful word can spread as quickly as a virus.

Catherine Nitta, Beacon Schools in Holocaust Education Ambassador
Newport Girls High School