Shropshire Council

Holocaust Memorial Day 2023

Planting a cherry tree orchard of remembrance in Shropshire

Here in Shropshire we find a different primary school each year, in different parts of our large rural county, at which to plant a cherry tree to commemorate the Holocaust and other genocides. The aim is to help primary school children to learn about the Holocaust in a way that will be age-appropriate and memorable.

We hold a ceremony with the two interfaith forums, South Shropshire Interfaith Forum and Shrewsbury Interfaith Forum, the school itself, and the local Shropshire Council councillors, in which we think about the theme for the year, and say prayers and light candles, and in which the school make a promise to look after their tree.

Last year, we planted a cherry tree at the small rural school of Sheriffhales.

In making our decision on location for 2023, we have been guided by wishing to take further positive action in the market town of Bridgnorth. This follows a distressing incident of antisemitic graffiti found in a public green space area of Bridgnorth town centre in November.

We were very conscious that local primary school children may have come across this graffiti before it was spotted and removed, and not been fully aware that it is a hate crime, and the reasons why it is so abhorrent. We have been able to source not one but two trees through our arboriculturist team. This will enable us to be in a position to plant both trees in the middle of Bridgnorth, and send out a very strong and visible message of our collective stance on this matter.

We will be highlighting that the graffiti could have come from people passing through the area rather than people in the local population, a point that we made in our press release at the time: this is more about raising awareness that such incidents may occur anywhere, and will never be tolerated.

More about the ceremonies

The trees will be planted in St Leonard’s CofE Primary School and St John’s VA Catholic Primary School, in the electoral ward of Cllr Kirstie Hurst-Knight as portfolio holder for children and education. In so doing, we are demonstrating commitment by all our councillors to the importance of raising awareness amongst primary school age children about the Holocaust and other genocides.

The ceremonies will take place at St Leonard’s from 930 to 1020, and at St John’s from 1100 to 1145. They will involve the inter faith forum leads and the SC councillors in a school assembly including the lighting of a candle, followed by the planting of the tree with a smaller group of children outside, again supported by the interfaith forums and by the SC councillors. At St Leonard’s, the grouping will be children who are on their Worship Council, and at St John’s, the grouping will be children who are Faith Council representatives.

More about the trees

As well as sourcing the trees through kind support from our arboriculturist team here, John Blessington from the team is helping with practicalities including guidance on looking after the trees as they grow alongside the children of the schools involved.

They are Black Oliver flowering cherries, a variety native to the West Midlands, chosen to link in with the importance of fruiting trees in Judaism, Islam and Christianity, and to illustrate our wish to show welcome for different faiths within our local area.

As well as gradually growing our cherry tree orchard of remembrance across Shropshire, we also go back to Mereside school in Shrewsbury, each year, where we planted the first tree in 2015, to see how it is growing. There will now be 11 trees planted with primary schools, as we planted in two federated rural schools in 2021.

Together with five planted with Belvidere, Church Stretton, Corbett, The Priory and at Sundorne in 2016, reaching secondary school students across the county, this makes 16 trees.

We also have a special Remembering Srebrenica tree planted in July 2021 at Shirehall in Shrewsbury, to coincide with Remembering Srebrenica Day on 11th July. This commemorates the humanitarian role of the armed forces.

Find out more about the role of the local armed forces, in blogs produced by Shropshire Archives Team.

More about Holocaust Memorial Day

Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) takes place on 27 January each year and is a time to remember the millions of people murdered during the Holocaust, under Nazi Persecution and in the genocides which followed in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.

Holocaust Memorial Day is a time when we seek to learn the lessons of the past and recognise that genocide does not just take place on its own – it’s a steady process which can begin if discrimination, racism and hatred are not checked and prevented. We’re fortunate here in the UK; we are not at immediate risk of genocide. However, discrimination has not ended, nor has the use of the language of hatred or exclusion. There is still much to do to create a safer future and HMD is an opportunity to start this process.

The aims of HMD are laid out in the  statement of commitment. HMD activity organisers bring together the diverse strands of their communities to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day in their neighbourhoods. This is a real demonstration of how the lessons of the past can inform our lives today and ensure that everyone works together to create a safer, better future.

Each year thousands of activities take place for HMD, bringing people from all backgrounds together to learn lessons from the past in creative, reflective and inspiring ways. From schools to libraries, workplaces to local authorities, HMD activities offer a real opportunity to honour the experiences of people affected by the Holocaust and genocide, and challenge ourselves to work for a safer, better future.

More about this year's theme: 'Ordinary People'

Genocide is facilitated by ordinary people. Ordinary people turn a blind eye, believe propaganda, join murderous regimes. And those who are persecuted, oppressed

and murdered in genocide aren’t persecuted because of crimes they’ve committed – they are persecuted simply because they are ordinary people who belong to a particular group (eg, Roma, Jewish community, Tutsi).

Ordinary people were involved in all aspects of the Holocaust, Nazi persecution of other groups, and in the genocides that took place in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. Ordinary people were perpetrators, bystanders, rescuers, witnesses – and ordinary people were victims.

In every genocide, those targeted faced limited choices – ‘choiceless choices’ (Lawrence Langer) but in every genocide the perpetrators have choices, ordinary people have choices. Sometimes, these choices were limited too, sometimes they had to make life-threatening decisions. And ordinary people were the ones who made brave decisions to rescue, to hide or stand up. But ordinary people also made decisions to ignore what was going on around them, to be bystanders, to allow the genocide to continue.

There are also extraordinary people in every genocide, remarkable and unusual people, who went to extreme lengths to help, to rescue, to save, and in every genocide there were extraordinary people, who went to extreme depths to cause harm, to persecute, to murder.

Our theme this year, though, highlights the ordinary people who let genocide happen, the ordinary people who actively perpetrated genocide, and the ordinary people who were persecuted. Our theme will also prompt us to consider how ordinary people, such as ourselves, can perhaps play a bigger part than we might imagine in challenging prejudice today.

We are all ordinary people today who can be extraordinary in our actions. We can all make decisions to challenge prejudice, stand up to hatred, to speak out against identity-based persecution, to shop responsibly.

Ordinary people are also the ones who drive Holocaust Memorial Day, who lead on community commemorations, who support and encourage everyone around them to take part in remembrance and education projects.

Find out more about the role of ordinary local people in Shropshire, during the Second World War, in blogs produced by Shropshire Archives Team.