Diocese of

Hexham and Newcastle

Bishop Séamus Cunningham

Department for Interreligious Relations

Hexham and Newcastle Diocese Holocaust Memorial Evening,
Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Fr. Mariadass Pagysamy, OCD, from the Diocesan Department for Interreligious Relations writes about the evening:

The Power of Words, The Power of Music’:

The Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle commemorated its annual Holocaust memorial event on Tuesday January 24 at St. Mary's School, Benton. The event was attended by the Right Rev. Séamus Cunningham, along with representatives from the various faith communities, including Rabbi Aaron Lipsey and the Mayor of Newcastle.

The Commemoration started with the words of Pastor Niemoller's poem, 'First they Came For,' reminding us of the dangers we can face when we do not speak out for justice and truth. Primo Levi's poem 'Shema', was read by Deanna Van Der Velde. A reminder that the Holocaust did not end Genocide was summerised in an account of the Rwandan atrocities which took place in 1994. Kim Johnstone provided a musical interlude, playing a self composed piece of music, cleverly incorporating the haunting theme from Schindler's List.

The guest speaker was the talented Simon Wallfisch, a well known cellist and opera singer. He very movingly told the story of his grandmother, Anita Lasker-Wallfisch. Anita grew up in Poland and was a member of a very musical family. In 1943 Anita and her sister Renate were sent to Auschwitz. Anita's life was saved by her ability as a cellist. Her talent was recognised by the Nazis. She was recruited into the camp orchestra, and forced to play as fellow inmates were marched to and from the various munitions factories, where they were forced to work.

After realising how close the Russian Army was to Auschwitz, in 1944 Anita and her sister were transferred to Bergen-Belsen Camp in Germany. Auschwitz was liberated on 27th January 1945, the day that has since been dedicated Holocaust Memorial Day. Anita was able to make a new life for herself in England, eventually becoming a founding member of the English Chamber Orchestra. She married and had two children, and Simon continues the families musical tradition today. Anita still gives talks about her wartime experiences.

In his talk Simon reminded us that relations between the Jewish and Christian community have not always been easy, reminding us that if we are unaware of our history, then sadly we are doomed to repeat it. It is with hope and confidence that it can be reported that Representatives from the Conference of European Rabbis presented the document ' Between Jerusalem and Rome,' to the Holy See in 2017, stating that whilst not hiding the theological differences there is a resolve for the two faiths to work more closely in the future.

The Memorial Candles were lit first by Simon, Bishop Séamus, Rabbi Lipsey and other faith, community leaders, the final candle was lit by a pupil from St Mary's symbolising the passing on of commemoration to the next generation. Six candles were lit representing the six million Jews who died.

Simon very movingly sang Kaddish in Hebrew, whilst accompanying himself on the cello. Reminding us that God's majesty will be revealed in the days of our lifetime, and in the life of all Israel, speedily, imminently to which we all say Amen.

Rabbi Lipsey expressed his thanks to all involved in the organisation of the service. He also paid tribute to the people of Newcastle for their welcome and understanding of faith communities. The evening was then concluded with a rendition of ' Kel Maleh Rachamin', the Jewish prayer for the soul of the departed.

The full video of Simon's talk and his singing of The Kaddish is available below and on our YouTube channel.


Department for Interreligious Relations