Chichester honours Holocaust Memorial Day

Chichester will once again be honouring those who perished in the Holocaust.

Thursday, 23rd January 2020, 4:06 pm
Updated Thursday, 23rd January 2020, 4:06 pm

The CMHMD (Chichester Marks Holocaust Memorial Day) team, chaired by Clare Apel, has organised two key events to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camp at Auschwitz on January 27 1945.

There will be a free screening of the film Enemies of the People at New Park Cinema on Sunday, January 26 followed by a performance of the Holocaust opera Push in Chichester’s Minerva Theatre on January 27, Holocaust Memorial Day itself.

Push, which has previously been performed in Chichester Cathedral, returns with substantially the same cast, a mix of Chichester community choirs, school children and university students.

The opera tells the true story of Simon Gronowski who, as an 11-year-old, was pushed from a train to Auschwitz by his mother, to save him from the gas chambers – a tale retold and rewritten as an opera by acclaimed composer Howard Moody.

Ultimately, it offers an uplifting story about the strength of the human spirit and also considers the ongoing plight of refugees – an aspect which chimes with the film which is also screening.

District councillor and former city mayor Martyn Bell, who has been a key figure in Chichester’s Holocaust commemoration, urged as many people as possible to come along to the free screening of Enemies of the People.

There is no charge for admission, but free tickets need to be secured in advance from the New Park Cinema.

The showing will be at 11am, introduced by the director Robert Lemkin, with a Q&A following the screening.

It’s a film with a particular personal resonance for Martyn.

“In the mid-1990s, while working for the Boots Company Plc, I set up Boots Health & Beauty retail stores in Thailand. They now operate over 300 stores in the country. In doing so, from my local Thai colleagues I heard many horrific stories of what had taken place in neighbouring Cambodia less than 20 years before.

“I also travelled extensively in Vietnam and Laos at the time, but due to the terrible recent history could never bring myself to visit Cambodia.

“I gather things are very different now.”

Martyn, who was actually born on the very day Auschwitz was liberated, said he was proud of the way Chichester continued to honour the anniversary.

“Every performance of Push has always been sold out.

“I think the power is that it tells a very personal story.

“It is a very powerful piece. I have seen it three times now and have always been incredibly moved by it.

“Obviously Push relates to the atrocities of the Second World War, but the film this year will also illustrate that these atrocities still go on.

“We looked at screening the film The Killing Fields but it is a film that most people will know.

“The film Enemies of the People is a remarkable film, a documentary. “

Over a ten-year period, journalist Thet Sambath, at great personal risk, elicited confessions of the Cambodian Genocide under Pol Pot’s regime, getting answers about the evils that destroyed his own family.

The film includes not only a rare interview with former Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Chea, but also very disturbing interviews with some of those who actually carried out the mass-murders in the Cambodian Killing Fields in the 1970s.

Martyn said: “I recognised the name of the director Lemkin, and it turns out he is distantly related to Raphael Lemkin who was the advisor to the US prosecution at the Nuremburg trials, and it was Lemkin who defined crimes against humanity.

“And now all these years later, his distant relative has made this remarkable film about all the terrible things that happened in Cambodia.”

Particularly interesting is that the documentary also interviews some of the men who carried out the killings: “Usually in films about the Holocaust, you get the newsreels and you get excerpts from the Nuremburg trials, but you don’t often get actual interviews with the people who actually killed all the innocent people.

“When you hear them talk about it, it is chilling and also quite an eye-opener. It is an amazing documentary.”