The theme for Holocaust Memorial Day 2023 is ‘Ordinary People’, recognising that individuals like ‘you and I’ were involved in the terror of the Holocaust: as perpetrators, victims, survivors and aid givers.
In keeping with this theme, we offer in commemoration of Holocaust victims and survivors, the example of a seemingly ordinary document from our Collection. Referenced as DR933/18, this ‘Eureka’ lined notebook was a common form of stationery in the 1960s. This example, like many others, has been written in, recording aspects of ordinary life in Stratford-upon-Avon. A regular pattern of coffee mornings, tea dances and jumble sales is charted, interspersed with literary recitals hosted by the Shakespeare Centre and musical concerts at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and Town Hall. Yet, this routine record of comfortable activities had a serious purpose, as revealed by the title of the notebook:
‘Minutes of the Stratford-upon-Avon Support Group for the Sue Ryder Homes for Concentration Camp Survivors 1963 – 1972’
This group was motivated by ethos of the humanitarian Sue Ryder:
‘Do what you can for the person in front of you’.
As Stratford was home to survivors of the Holocaust, this gave a real focus to the Support Group, which prioritised fund raising through charity events for the care homes established by Sue Ryder. These provided respite from daily pressures for survivors, as well as specialist care for the physical and emotional consequences arising from Hitler’s concentration camps. Even twenty years after the full horror of those camps had been revealed, survivors were still living with injury and trauma, inflicted by what Sylvia Hayman described in the ‘The Times’ (1967) as:
‘That Hell called variously Belsen and Auschwitz, Dachau and Neuengamme, Mauthausen, Vaihingen, Buchenwald and Ravensbruck’.
The presence of survivors who bore witness to the terror acted as a spur to the fund raising events, resulting in a network of activities that stretched from domestic settings for coffee mornings, church and community halls staging dances to the town’s civic and cultural institutions hosting recitals and concerts. As local resident Julie de Bastion noted,
‘Discussion of the Holocaust ... hit home, [my] parents were survivors of the Nazi camps in World War Two’ [SBT Reference STRST: SBT 2002-4/11]
As the work of the Holocaust Memorial Trust and others reveal, the legacy of the Nazi Holocaust remains, as do modern examples of genocide, with ordinary people once again becoming perpetrators, victims, survivors and aid givers. In that context, we hope that this document serves as an affirmation that in numerous small ways, ordinary people can help to alleviate the consequences of terror.
Holocaust Memorial Trust https://www.hmd.org.uk/
Lady Ryder of Warsaw Memorial Trust https://www.lrwmt.org.uk/