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–by Ms. Sarah Boulware–
On January 28th, 2020, eleven Grade 10 History students and two IB Global Politics HL students attended the UN Holocaust Remembrance Day at the UNESCAP building in downtown Bangkok. The event was hosted by both the Israeli Embassy and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. Ms. Debbie Klongtruadoke Scott, the Executive Assistant to the Head of School and an RIS alumna, arranged this opportunity for a select number of RIS students to attend this solemn event.
Holocaust Remembrance Day is observed globally, and this year marked 75 years since the liberation of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Poland and the death of 15-year-old Anne Frank. The life of Anne Frank, who perished in Auschwitz, was the focus of this year’s Remembrance Day. Mr. Jake Curtis and Ms. Sarah Boulware invited Grade 10 history students to attend as part of a commitment to educating students about the events of the Holocaust. Before the event, the students and distinguished guests viewed an intricate set of museum panels detailing the life of Anne Frank, put together by Mahidol University and the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The RIS students took their time reading over each display, discovering how an optimistic young teenager lost her privacy, her freedom, her rights, and finally her life.
When they entered the conference hall, the students were met by an unusual occurrence: complete silence. The silence remained unbroken until family members of Holocaust victims were called to the front to read off the names of their murdered relatives and to light a candle in their honor. The Ambassador of Israel, Dr. Meir Shlomo, reminded the audience that no one listened to the Jewish people as they endured unspeakable hell in Auschwitz. Dr. Shlomo also warned the international community about the rise of hate against groups based on their ethnicity and faith and dangers for increased persecution and state violence in our current political climate.
Each speaker revisited the terrible crimes of Auschwitz in a different light. The Ambassador of Germany, Mr. Georg Schmidt, spoke out against the crimes of the Nazis and his country’s commitment to preventing such atrocities from ever happening again. The representative from the Dutch embassy told the story of young Anne Frank and her family as they listened to the D-day invasion on the radio and awaited a liberation that would come too late to save them. He then relayed the cold facts of her separation from her father and mother, the death of her sister, and finally her demise. One speaker shared Anne’s final diary entry that reflected a belief in the good of people, despite the evidence she experienced to the contrary.
Another poignant highlight of the event was the performance by Ms. Monique Klongtruadroke, an international opera singer, who is not only Ms. Debbie’s sister but also a former RIS student. She sang two pieces in Hebrew, “A Walk to Caesarea,” commonly sung on Holocaust Remembrance Day, and the prayer “Avinu Malkenu.” Her stunning voice rang through the UN conference hall, capturing both the sorrow and the hope of the remembrance ceremony.
After the ceremony, the students mingled with the diverse international diplomatic community, meeting one especially important employee of UNESCAP, another former RIS student, Ms. Marisa Panyachiva, the Programme Officer in the Strategy and Programme Management Division, who attended RIS with Ms. Debbie. The students were excited to interview her about her background and experience working at the United Nations. Some students were inspired to imagine a future where they too might work in the Secretariat of the UN, which launched an impromptu tour of the UNESCAP building led by Ms. Marissa. During the tour, the students learned about former Executive-Secretaries, the work that takes place in the building, and the artwork throughout the building that was gifted by many countries. The air-filtering garden was of special interest to all, and the students and teachers peered out to discover what plants can be used to improve the air quality in our environment.
Before we left, RIS received an invitation from the Israeli Embassy’s press secretary to return next year to attend Holocaust Remembrance Day and encouraged all students to “never forget” the tragedy of the Holocaust and to care about the fate of all peoples, regardless of their race, faith, creed, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, politics, or any characteristic they may have that is different from ours.