29 January 2021
This week the School community has been commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day with an informative assembly by Mrs Cruse (Head of Years 7 and 8) and a creative activity based around the Jewish custom of leaving pebbles on gravestones. The most striking part of the assembly for me was an extract from a letter written by Holocaust survivor, Haim Ginott, who said:
“Dear Teacher, I am a survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no man should witness. Gas chambers built by learned engineers, children poisoned by educated physicians… So, I am suspicious of education. My request is: help your students become human. Your efforts must never produce monsters, skilled psychopaths… Reading, writing and arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more humane.”
And what a vital message this is for educators not only here at BGS, but around the world. At a time when schools are daily in the newspapers, it is important to remember that education is not just about passing examinations, though naturally that is a part of what we do. We teachers are in such a privileged position getting to work with young people, and particularly such wonderful students as your daughters. The students at BGS are impassioned, inquisitive and compassionate. Through my conversations with them and reading about all their achievements, they are clearly determined to make a difference to the world around them. They want to fight injustice, raise funds and awareness of charities that are important to them, protect the environment and go off into the world as adults committed to making a difference. Naturally, they gain much of this from you, their parents, but I am confident that this is confirmed through our teaching and co-curricular activities, and the ethos that permeates BGS.
This year’s Holocaust Memorial Day theme is “Be the Light in the Darkness” and I can’t think of a more apt statement for our times. The world has felt like a very dark place over this past year with COVID, multiple lockdowns, continued issues around racial discrimination and political unrest, but our students do provide us with bright spots amongst all this uncertainty and challenges. Their humour, determination, resilience and care for one another are the epitome of hope for the future. Through community events, such as this one, Black History Month and Rainbow Laces Day, we have demonstrated our commitment as a School to not only ensuring we are an inclusive environment for all, but also to standing up to discrimination and bias.
I have had the privilege of hearing many Holocaust and other genocide survivors talk over the years and the horrors they describe cannot be readily imagined by those of us who have been fortunate enough not to live through it. The magnitude of what they suffered is overwhelming and it is distressing to hear, but it must be heard if we are ever to ensure that humans don’t allow these types of atrocities to occur again. This is why we take our responsibility as teachers so seriously; we have the opportunity to help children make sense of the darkness in the world, but more importantly we can help guide them towards the light: to be the defenders against discrimination; to be brave enough to make the right choices; to be passionate enough to make a difference; and to be caring enough to show empathy and understanding to others.
As always I shall leave you with a quote, this time from Elie Wisel, a Holocaust survivor, and I hope that it inspires all our students to stand up for what they truly believe in:
“ I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
Gemma Gibson, Headmistress, Bedford Girls’ School