Alex & Amy

Relais de la Mémoire 2013

As pupils of Dame Allan’s we feel privileged to have been given the chance to participate in the Relais de la Mémoire organisation; an international organisation set up to remember atrocities of the past, with a focus on WWII and to promote peace for the future. Students from Krakow, Paris, Marseille, Vienna and Newcastle meet bi-annually to hear first-hand accounts of events, or be involved in discussions, whilst at the same time having the amazing opportunity to build long-lasting friendships with other European students.

In March of this year, we visited Marseille. The theme the organisation had chosen for all 2013 conferences was ‘Art et Mémoire’ (art and memory). This gave us the opportunity to look at how the atrocities of the Second World War are expressed through artwork as well as verbal accounts.

As usual, the ‘tables rondes’, consisting of a variety of individuals with personal and unique accounts to share, gave us much food for thought whilst allowing us to participate in group discussions with the other European students. At every conference there are a set of artistic workshops, which allow us to reflect on the incredible content of the witness statements and speeches and provide the opportunity to express our emotions through means other than speaking. This time, we decided to take part in the art workshop. We were given the assignment of creating a piece that showed the kindness that people can display during times of great hardship. We came up with a picture consisting of two silhouettes, with “Reach” written on one’s arm and “Out” written on the other, then two speech bubbles “Speak” and “Out”. For us, this was the most important message of Relais in Marseille, that as young people we must use our voices to our advantage and make ourselves heard.

alex-amy-2Earlier this year, one of the organisation’s founding members Stéphane Hessel, co-author of the declaration of human rights, sadly died overnight at the age of 95. French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault paid tribute to him in the following terms: “In France, in Europe, in the world, Stéphane Hessel was the spirit of resistance incarnate. For every generation, for young people, he was a source of inspiration but also a reference. At 95, he embodied faith in the future of this new century.” The following afternoon his name was a top trending term on Twitter in France and Spain, this is a direct correlation to his inspirational ability, passion, and care for others. We had the privilege of hearing Stéphane speak at Dame Allan’s Speech Day in 2007. The way in which he engaged with the audience, and held everyone’s attention made his words truly memorable. For those of you who have not heard of Stéphane, we urge you to read “Time For Outrage” the English translation of his French book “Indignez-vous”. The book was his response to the ever-increasing gap between the extremes of rich and poor, the trauma being inflicted on the environment and the situation in the Middle East. Arguably the most poignant message is held in the final statement – “To create is to resist, to resist is to create”.

Throughout the book he calls for France’s youth to reclaim the spirit of the wartime resistance movement and fight peacefully for what they believe in. He stated that ‘it is up to us, to all of us together, to ensure that our society remains one to be proud of’.

In Marseille, a great emphasis was made regarding the future of the organisation; and the important role the students hold. It was highlighted, how, after the death of many of the World War II survivors and inspiring speakers whom we have had the privilege of listening to, it will be up to us to continue to tell their stories and ensure that we do not forget the atrocities of not only the World Wars, but several historic events. We also discussed how the organisation could remain relevant for the younger generations, and therefore discussions of how on-going conflicts could be incorporated into upcoming conferences.

The approaching conference in Vienna in October will continue the theme of “Art et Mémoire”. Following this, the theme for 2014 (where conferences shall be held in Paris and Newcastle) will be “Les victimes, mais aussi les bourreaux: vivre après”. This will focus on reflecting not only on the victims of atrocity, but also the torturers, and their lives afterwards. The choice of the 2014 theme, of which all members of the Relais de La Mémoire organisation were able to vote on, illustrates the reflective tone of the conferences. It also highlights the development within the organisation to include more modern day examples of conflict, whilst still continuing with the fundamental message, that through memory and friendship we can help to prevent these awful events of the past from occurring again in the future.

Alex and Amy