To commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day, storytellers Rachel Smilie, Julie Dawid and friends told stories and sang songs at the Scottish Storytelling Centre. HMD commemorates the day that Soviet soldiers liberated Auschwitz-Bikenau in 1945. The anniversary is used in the UK to mark the genocides in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur as well as the Nazi-perpetrated one.
The stories told included the tale of a young Jewish man’s seizure on Kristallnacht and eventual internment in Dachau, Rachel’s German friend Helga’s memories of being a child during WWII, and a traditional Rwandan tale. Songs included one composed by concentration camp prisoners, a Romany song about “the devouring”, and a few contemporary peace songs.
I was moved by the stories and the songs, but also by the respectful quality of listening by the audience, which included a few children. The evening reminded me of the importance of telling and listening to “difficult stories.” It is these stories more than any others that have the power to break down the barriers between us and them, between home and elsewhere, between what is admitted and what is only tacitly known.
American storytellers Elizabeth Ellis and Loren Niemi have written a book on the subject of telling difficult stories called “Inviting the Wolf In”. It is a book every storyteller should have on his or her shelf. It asks what stories are we not telling and why? And offers advice on how to craft and tell challenging stories so that they offer the potential of transformation to both teller and listener. It includes some examples of such stories.
It is difficult stories more than any others that open up possibilities for social change. Julie and Rachel put together a powerful set of difficult stories that compassionately brought listeners through horrors and into hope.
The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust is the organization in the United Kingdom that organizes events and publicises Holocaust Memorial Day.
Julie Dawid sourced a number of the songs performed from the United States Holcaust Memorial Museum’s Music Collection.