Chichester's Holocaust commemoration impresses in the House of Commons

Martyn Bell
Martyn Bell

Chichester took its commemoration of the Holocaust to the heart of government with a revival of last year’s hugely-successful production of PUSH – A Holocaust Opera in Speaker’s House in the House of Commons.

A community choir of around 75 adults and 25 children travelled from Chichester to London, along with soloists from the University of Chichester.

Their reward was a glowing review in The Times.

The reviewer said: “You might think Parliament has quite enough drama already this week, but in the Speaker’s House on Monday an invited audience watched something that made our present squabbles look very insignificant. It was a community opera, Howard Moody’s Push, that for 65 minutes transported us back into the heart of darkness that was the Holocaust.”

It all adds up to a remarkable story of success for the committee of Chichester Marks Holocaust Memorial Day, founded by city councillors Clare Apel and (current mayor) Martyn Bell five years ago.

PUSH explores themes of invasion, loss and the redeeming power of human kindness. Written by internationally-acclaimed composer Howard Moody, the opera is inspired by the true story of Simon Gronowski, who was pushed from a train bound for Auschwitz by his mother in 1943. The opera’s title refers to his mother’s desperate and courageous gesture.

Martyn was delighted with the response to the performance: “It went very well indeed. It was the fourth time that they had done it so they were very well trained, and from an artistic point of view it went wonderfully well. And the other thing was that it was so very well attended. I had the privilege of meeting all sorts of people there.

“Simon Gronowski was there in person and my job was to get him from Eurostar to the House of Commons in time, which we managed, and he gave a lovely little speech. The reaction was tremendous applause with people seeing just how appropriate, how timely it was. We have got hate crime on the increase; we have got anti-Semitism on the increase. The message coming through from the opera is one of respect for others and tolerance.”

Martyn said he felt extremely proud of Chichester for its act of commemoration.

The achievement was considerable: “We have managed to get Push’s message out, a message of forgiveness and reconciliation. We have managed to get it out to so many people. As Mayor of Chichester, I am so proud of our Chichester-area community choir and of the soloists from the university.”

Clare was similarly delighted with the way things went: “Gillian Keegan, our MP, came to see it last year, and she found it incredibly moving. With this story, it is not just relevant to the Holocaust especially with all the anti-Semitism going on now and every other -ism that is happening.

“I said to Gillian that it should be shown in Parliament, and Gillian’s husband is a friend of the Speaker, John Bercow, and John Bercow said we should put it on in Speaker’s House.”

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