People in Newcastle whose families have experienced having to leave their home as refugees, and children of people who survived the Holocaust, have been sharing their stories as part of a new performance created to mark Holocaust Memorial Day.
Peace Process-ion2 is a performance created by Newcastle-based Skimstone Arts, which uses music, sound and theatre to explore stories of human acts of kindness, bravery and resilience.
Claire Webster Saaremets, Artistic Director of Skimstone Arts, explains: “We’ve collected stories from people who are members of Bosnian, Syrian and Roma refugee communities and who are now living here in the North East. We also listened to some people whose parents were Holocaust survivors and the courage, bravery, honesty and resilience of each person sharing their experience sharing was a privilege to hear.
“Their stories are still so relevant to today and they give an insight into how the human spirit can still continue to be alive in times of madness.”
One of the people who shared his story was Smajo, who came to the North East from Bosnia aged 9 and attended Chillingham Road Primary School in Heaton, Newcastle. Now in his early thirties, Smajo is studying for a PhD in Architecture at Newcastle University.
Smajo said: “I often think about all the people that helped us when we first moved here. The war was going on for so long, we actually moved house 14 times in the first nine months of the war and then I came to Chillingham Road [Primary School] and my teacher and classmates were singing in Bosnian. I can’t explain how amazing that was! Really, that was finally being home.”
Smajo added: “You grow up without your aunties, your cousins and where we lived you had your closest family there near you. Bosnian families are really, really close and you have your extended families…that is your meaning of home and you can try and recreate it here – my brother is here and my sister is here. But there is always that yearning for what could have been.”
Balsam, who is from Syria and now based in Newcastle with her family, shared stories of what it was like to see her homeland and people she loved displaced by war, saying: “I am now at a very difficult point in my life […] Should I try and go home? The boys are settled here. But I am maybe torn again. There are no answers. I still live in those uncertain places. But I am still one of the lucky ones.”
Marta Josephs, based in Newcastle and formerly from Hungary, talked about her father Andrew Frankel, a Holocaust survivor: “I remember my mother saying that she always wanted to have plenty of food on the table because she never wanted my father to go without food again. So I knew that he had been starved.”
Claire added: “We are working with a wonderfully diverse, professional and international cast of performers, dancers and up and coming young Romanian musicians to create live music, soundtracks, theatre and procession, inviting people to stop and look and reflect on these experiences of finding identities, connections and hope in a new land and place.
“I’m also grateful to Dr Beate Müller, Reader in Modern German Studies and Director of Impact and Engagement, School of Modern Languages at Newcastle University for her extensive research and knowledge of child Holocaust testimonies.”
Each story has been used to help shape the performance, which takes place on Wednesday 30 January at Newcastle City Library between 12pm and 3pm, and then at Newcastle Civic Centre Red Carpet between 5pm and 6.30pm. Peace Process-ion2 lasts for 20 minutes and will be performed on a rolling basis.
Admission is free and no booking is required.
Peace Process-ion2 has been commissioned by Newcastle City Council Arts Development Team to mark Holocaust Memorial Day 2019 which explores the theme ‘torn from home’ and which encourages audiences to reflect on how the enforced loss of a safe place to call ‘home’ is part of the trauma faced by anyone experiencing persecution and genocide.
Arts Council England Elevate Funding is supporting the cast in residence to develop the performances.
Find out more at www.skimstone.org.uk.