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22 Jan 2012

Commemoration of Holocaust Memorial Day in Brent: In words and in spirit

Rwandan survivor, Ndiho Sean Obedih addresses Brent Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration, Town Hall, 22 January 2012. (Chief executive, Gareth Daniel and borough Mayor, Cllr Aslam Choudry also on stage, l-r).

Performance of 'Viva La Libertad' by Kensal Rise Primary School Ethnic Contemporary Classical Orchestra.

Today's event was well attended and a huge success. I found the programme, put together by the Brent Multi Faith Forum, an excellent combination of historical overview, reflection and meditation, yet something to lift the spirit, too.

Ndiho Sean Obedih (pictured) spoke emotionally, yet eloquently, about the period in 1994 when he and his family escaped with their lives. He started by confiding in us that he hadn't "been able to open the vault of the bad memories" which he held. He punctuated his description of his eventual flight from the home where murderous gangs repeatedly visited and finally burnt to the ground with, "Had we been there [that day], I wouldn't be here today." Mr Obedih's insights were painfully authentic: "I could name a thousand names whose lives have been wasted because of hatred," and he spoke of how when first asked his tribe he did not know the answer, nor could it have been known, or important, amongst the friends he had made before then .. and still. I was impressed with Obedih's articulacy of the evil which men (and it is generally men) do: "No one is born a saviour or a murderer." He ended with a quote from Anne Frank, "I don't think of all the misery but the beauty that still remains."

The performance by the young orchestra from Kensal Rise Primary school was a fitting close to the proceeding, all of which was ably compered by Gareth Daniel. I did wonder whether somebody else might have wanted to perform that link role, but Daniel does have his own charms (describing himself self-effacingly at one point as a "front man")

We do not have enough opportunities in Brent for demonstration of community cohesion and solidarity, but at least this was one almost perfectly managed. Whilst enjoying, as a borough, the most diverse society in the country this was a perfect place to demonstrate the inclusive purpose of the Memorial Day, which has sometimes gotten unduly politicised elsewhere.

News story in Brent Times, "Hundreds pay tribute to genocide victims in Holocaust Memorial Day event in Brent", 23 Jan 2012.

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