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Artist Antonia Stowe, school students and buttons
Artist Antonia Stowe and collectors...

Six million buttons!

People across Kirklees have been responding to a challenge to collect more than six million buttons before the end of the year. While this may seem to be just a bit of fun the buttons will be used to express a very serious message.

Each button will represent one of the human lives killed during the Holocaust and, laid out in the Art Gallery, they will be used to illustrate the sheer industrial scale of the murder of millions and the continued oppression of minority groups across the world.

The approach to Auschwitz.
The approach to Auschwitz.

'The 6 million Plus project' is being run by Kirklees Community History Service to mark next year's Holocaust Memorial Day which takes place on January 26th, 2006. Kim Strickson from Kirklees Community History Service explains why she thinks the buttons are appropriate for the installation: "They come in all shapes, sizes and colours just like people, and they remind us of the clothes forcibly removed from victims as they entered the death camps. It was not only Jewish people who died from starvation, disease and gas chambers in the camps. Well over a million others died in the camps - political opponents, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, disabled people, gypsies and people from other racial groups."

Already the '6 Million Plus' project, organised by Kirklees Community History Service, has captured the imagination of people throughout the area and beyond. Thousands of buttons have poured into collection points set up in Kirklees Museums, Huddersfield Art Gallery and Dewsbury Town Hall.  Kirklees schools have also been collecting with incredible results. Howden Clough Girls High School has handed over a quarter of a million buttons, 8000 of which were collected by Year Seven students Bethany Wilson and Helena Sowden.

The latest donation of 22,718 buttons has come from Jasmine Baker, a Year 9 pupil at All Saints School in Bradley, Huddersfield. She put up posters asking for buttons in the Halifax hospital where her Polish mother, Mariola, works. Her step-father, Michael, has also received donations from local haberdasheries visited through his job in the clothing industry.

Students from Kirklees secondary schools, Huddersfield New College and Greenhead College will be working with Kirklees Community History Service staff and West Yorkshire-based artist Antonia Stowe to create the installation. Kim says: "Since the 1940s, genocide has continued to stalk our world. During this project, young people will be asked to consider the reasons why and to learn from the direct experience of those who have lived through such experiences and somehow continue to be hopeful of a better future."

But more buttons are needed...

There have also been poignant stories behind the buttons donated by members of the public - like the elderly lady who handed over 21 buttons, one for every member of her family lost in the Holocaust. Kim adds: "Those 21 buttons were hugely significant to that lady and it is important that people do not lost sight of why these buttons are being collected."

The installation will include a DVD featuring six survivors of the Holocaust and six refugees from places as far apart as Bosnia and Chile and now living locally. They have been filmed comparing stories and sharing experiences with each other and the schools involved in the project.

The complete work will be officially launched as part of the Kirklees Holocaust Memorial Day event on Wednesday, 25 January 2006.  It will be unveiled in Huddersfield Art Gallery before a commemoration event in Huddersfield Town Hall, attended by the young people involved in the making of the installation and those featured in the DVD.

Although buttons are pouring in, the organisers say there is still a long, long way to go to reach the target by the end of the year. Anyone who would like to donate buttons should take them, ready counted, to one of the above mentioned collection points or contact the Kirklees Community History Service, tel: 01484 223800.

last updated: 14/11/05
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