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Aid worker tells of Rwandan genocide as Redditch marks Holocaust Memorial Day

REDDITCH marked Holocaust Memorial Day with a moving and inspirational ceremony topped by a speech by American humanitarian aid worker Carl Wilkens on Rwanda’s 100-day genocide of 1994.

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The event last Saturday began in the Town Hall with a display by children from the Polish Saturday Morning School and the Kerala Cultural Society dressed in traditional costume.

From there, a procession led to the town’s Holocaust marker in Market Square before continuing to the Ecumenical Centre for more acts of remembrance and public readings.

The theme of this year’s event was ‘Power of Words’ and there were readings on the Holocaust and the testimony of survivors of the Nazi death camps before the keynote address by Mr Wilkens.

He told of the 100 days of slaughter in Rwanda when Hutus turned on their Tutsi neighbours in a bloodbath orchestrated by government officials which resulted in the deaths of some 800,000 people.

Mr Wilkens, who broke off a whistle-stop tour promoting a book on his experiences, called ‘I’m Not Leaving’, was the only American in Rwanda during those terrible times.

“Carl gave an insight to his time working in Rwanda, the country, and the people, as well as the horrific events,” said Council Leader, Councillor Bill Hartnett. “He spoke with passion using slides and video. He took questions too.

“At the end of his talk, I presented him with a gift of a coat of arms-shield of Redditch.”

Borough Mayor Jenny Wheeler said: “It was a very poignant occasion and we had a very charismatic speaker. He made it clear that in Rwanda there were people there who helped him make good, positive choices. He would not accept the credit for anything.”

There were also songs by the Redditch Community Gospel Choir, It’s a Sign Choir and Keralan dance and song from the Polish children.

Holocaust Memorial Day takes place annually on January 27, the day in 1945 that the Soviet Army liberated the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi death camp.

In the Holocaust 11 million people, including six million Jews, were systematically murdered in Europe between 1941-45 by the Nazis and their collaborators.


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