Holocaust memorial services held in Norwich, Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth

Hundreds of people gathered across the region today at poignant services to mark Holocaust Memorial Day.

Paying their respects to the millions of Jews and other minorities murdered by the Nazis, ceremonies were held in Norwich, Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth this morning as part of Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) 2012. And with the theme of this year's events encouraging all to 'Speak Up, Speak Out' to create a safer, better future, HMD 2012 is calling on people to think about the rights, responsibility and duty we all have to speak up when we see or hear something which we believe to be wrong. The campaign looks at how we make a choice when to speak up and considers the dangers in both choosing to speak out and not speaking up - asking us all to speak up against injustice and hatred today.

The services also gave people a chance to remember the victims of genocides in Rwanda, Bosnia, Cambodia and Darfur.

At a special church service in Norwich, the annual event to mark the day when Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenau - the largest network of concentration camps - was liberated, took place at St Peter Mancroft Church, The Chantry.

The congregation gathered at a service organised by the Council of Christians and Jews and supported by the vicar, Canon Peter Nokes, who led the prayers.

Canon Nokes said: 'At this important annual service we recall the horrific atrocities of the Holocaust in the sense of marking an historical event.

'But we also recall those events in the present to reaffirm our determination to strive for a world in which the evil and bigotry and violence is overcome by the giving of dignity and respect to all people.'

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The service was attended by MP for Norwich North Chloe Smith and Lord Mayor of Norwich, Councillor Jenny Lay, who welcomed people as they entered the church.

Miss Smith said: 'I am proud that Norwich plays its connected part in important commemoration.'

Mrs Lay said: 'We all have a responsibility in our communities to promote equal respect for each other, regardless of age, origin or belief.

'Our society is built on the understanding that all individuals are of equal worth.

'Let us remember our duty, be aware of discrimination and not just walk by.'

About 40 people gathered in the cold at Lowestoft railway station to take part in the annual wreath-laying ceremony. The service is held at the station in recognition of the 200 Jewish child refugees who arrived there in December 1938 to be billeted across the region.

The service was led by chairman of Waveney District Council, Peter Collecott, and Lowestoft mayor, Tod Sullivan. Captain Paul McDonough, of Christians Together Lowestoft and District, led the prayer and provided a moment of reflection.

Prior to laying a wreath at the memorial plaque in the station, Councillor Collecott read out a poem First They Came - by Pastor Martin Niemoller - as an inspiration for the ceremony.

He said: 'Let's all come together to Speak Up and Speak Out.'

The mayor said: 'I wonder how many times each day, each week we shake hands with people. I wonder how often we find shaking hands a meaningful experience, it can become very much part of an instinctive routine for us. But a hand shake is both symbolic and meaningful; it shows warmth, unity and equality, trust agreement and respect. A hand shake means something.

'Imagine, then, how 200 child refugees must have felt when, on a cold December day in 1938, Dr Harrold Barraclough – the then mayor of Lowestoft ensured that he shook the hand of each and every child as they disembarked trains before making their way to Pakefield and Southwold. Those children, I suspect, found every meaning in that simple gesture and I feel privileged to now hold the office that represents those actions many years ago.

'We should remain proud today that Lowestoft played a part in offering refuge and safety to those Jewish youngsters so that they did not perish with over 1m other Jewish Children and 5m Jewish adults who died alongside gay people, Romani's, the disabled and other religious and minority groups during the second world war,' councillor Sullivan added.

'Often we may say 'it must never happen again' but sadly it already has in Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia and in other places and still today around the world. Having offered refuge to those 200 children we must now make sure that we do not allow Lowestoft to be refuge to hatred and discrimination in any form.

'We may not, on our own, be able to stop atrocities from occurring but we can refuse to accept behaviour that perpetuates division and difference, we can reject racism and discrimination of other kinds in our day to day lives and we can treat all those we meet with respect and dignity.

'Remember the power of Dr Barraclough's actions and perhaps we can try to extend a literal or a actual hand shake to people who we encounter day to day – we remember the fallen of this Holocaust Memorial Day best by our actions in the future, do not forget them and do not fail them,' the mayor concluded.

More than 20 people gathered at a Great Yarmouth cemetery to remember the victims of the Holocaust.

The congregation gathered at the Jewish cemetery in Kitchener Road for a poignant remembrance service, which also wreaths and flowers laid in memory of those who died.

The Rev Christopher Terry said: 'It was a small gathering for us to remember those who lost their lives and continue to suffer as a result of second world war. It helps us to remember and reminds us that such things could still happen today and it's important that we keep the memory alive.

'It is lovely that the town considers it important and marks it. We have a duty to keep alive the memories of those who suffered.'

Mayor Barry Coleman placed a wreath on one of the graves on behalf of the Great Yarmouth borough council.

He said: 'We have three Jewish cemeteries in the borough. I have been to Auschwitz on a couple of occasions and it is a very moving experience. I think it is important for each of us to keep in mind what happened there.

'Although I don't think there's a terribly big Jewish community here now, I think it is symbolic for all minorities.'

Also this week, both Norwich South MP Simon Wright and Waveney MP Peter Aldous signed a Book of Commitment in the House of Commons, pledging their commitment to Holocaust Memorial Day and honouring those who died during the Holocaust.

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