On Thursday 18 July, a delegation including Harry Olmer BEM, a holocaust survivor, Deputy Lord Mayor Councillor Ann Lucas OBE, and CORE Education Trust CEO Adrian Packer CBE, came together with teachers and pupils from 10 schools across the West Midlands at Barr’s Hill School, Coventry, to celebrate Echo Eternal – a commemorative arts, media and civic engagement project.
The Echo Eternal project – which was conceived and developed by CORE Education Trust on behalf of the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation (UKHMF) – has enabled local students to create their own echoes of the survivor stories – thereby using art to bring events of huge historical importance to life. So far 290 young people from the West Midlands have spent time creating an artistic response to a testimony from one of the survivors, with a total of 5,000 people engaging in the project as a whole in its first year.
Seventy pupils from Birmingham and Coventry schools came together this week to honour the testimony of Harry Olmer BEM – who in 1942, as a teenager, was sent to work at several notorious camps, living and working in exhausting, dangerous and horrific conditions. He survived periodic selections by the SS where prisoners were shot. Finally, in 1945 he was sent to a ghetto in Czechoslovakia.
Holocaust Survivor Harry Olmer BEM, said:
“Hate is the most terrible thing. As humans you have to remember how to behave, and how not to hate. And that is what we just do, we just always remember.
“The performance was absolutely fantastic; the whole country should see this. The way the Barr’s Hill students portrayed the story was very good indeed.”
Harry came to Windermere with a group of child survivors known as ‘The Boys’. In 1950 he became a British citizen and later served in the Royal Army Dental Corp in Hanover. He married a Kindertransport refugee and went on to have four children and eight grandchildren.
On the day, Deputy Lord Mayor and ex-Barr’s Hill pupil, Ann Lucas OBE, welcomed everyone in a celebration of the UK Holocaust survivor testimonials recorded by Natasha Kaplinsky and the ‘echoes’ the local pupils have created – which were displayed and shown alongside speeches from VIPs throughout the day. The centre piece of the day was the premiere screening of the Barr’s Hill Echo film: ‘How Strong Are We’.
Deputy Lord Mayor Councillor Ann Lucas OBE said:
“Echo Eternal is an amazing project, and one very much in line with our city’s beliefs and values. It uses art and music to bring young people and holocaust survivors together, so their stories and the lessons of history are never forgotten.
“Coventry is a city of peace, reconciliation and sanctuary. Coventry leads work around the world to inspire people of all ages, races and faiths to learn more about each other. By understanding more about each other we can build friendships, and we can build a better world. I’m so proud that schools from our city, and Birmingham, are involved in Echo Eternal.”
The day closed with a performance by Barr’s Hill pupils and a Q&A session between Harry and the pupils. Pupils were eager to hear Harry’s feedback and see his response to their work, they were keen to ask him questions about his experiences. The time spent together further cemented the bond and sense of duty the students have to sharing Harry’s testimony.
Adrian Packer CBE, Chief Executive of CORE Education and Founder of Echo Eternal, said:
“It has been magical to see the schools come together today to share their wonderful work with Harry – an inspirational and courageous survivor. I hope the students hold on to his truth, and the truths of all the survivor testimonies they have responded to, they are gifts which we will all cherish.
“Echo Eternal has become a commemorative arts movement – it allows us to paytribute to the survivors’ testimonies and champion civic engagement. We have created ‘echoes’ to spark light, to create new life, and new impulses. Today has been a brilliant illustration of this, and we are delighted that so many young people have already benefited from taking part in the programme.
“We are delighted that six Coventry schools have now become part of the Echo Eternal movement, on top of the 12 Birmingham schools we’re already working with. Over the next couple of years, even more students will have the opportunity to engage with Echo Eternal, and by 2022, we anticipate that around 15,000 children, young people and their families will have been part of this movement – both listening to the echoes from the past and, in turn, creating their own echoes for the future.”
Headteacher at Barr’s Hill School, Chris Jupp, said:
“We are very grateful to the Echo Eternal project for providing this phenomenal opportunity for our students. This is the start of a major collaboration with us and Coventry Cathedral around peace and reconciliation, which is so important in young people’s lives at the
moment. It’s been inspiring to see how our students have engaged with this highly challenging subject matter and the learning that they have taken from it.”
Keita Reikstin, Year 8 student at Barr’s Hill School, said:
“Throughout this project we have learned that many people have experienced so much pain. We have learned to respect who they are. I think it is an honour to show people this history and to demonstrate through performance how we feel.”
Desmond Darkwah, Year 8 student at Barr’s Hill School, said:
“I’ve learnt so much about the holocaust – more than just the events, but how it affected the people who experienced this tragedy. I have learnt its relevance to today and how we should reflect and move forward. This project has really opened my eyes.”