Jewish Holocaust Remembrance Day

  • 05/04/2018
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The Jewish Holocaust Remembrance Day, sometimes referred to as Yom HaShoah, is on the 12th of April this year in the Jewish Calendar. The Jewish community in Israel and abroad commemorate the day in many ways; in Israel, places of entertainment are closed on the day of Yom HaShoah, flags are set at half-mast, political and religious leaders give speeches and the national TV channels play Holocaust documentaries, whilst abroad the communities host memorials and services in local synagogues. Though the atrocities of the Holocaust are more-than worth revisiting, they are already well-documented; so, we thought we’d take a different approach and remind ourselves of the heroes in the Holocaust.

Bielski Brothers 

Tuvia, Zus, Aron and Asael Bielski were Polish millers and grocers in the Belarusian village of Stankiewicze. Eventually the area came under Nazi control, and the brothers fled with a small group to the nearby Nakiboli Forest; the eldest brother Tuvia had experience in War – he had risen to the rank of Corporal in the Polish army and therefore knew a few things about organisation and leadership; under him and his brother’s leadership the numbers in the Nakiboli Forest grew from 40 to a peak of 1,236, and became known as the Bielski Partisans. Though the group comprised of mainly women, children and the elderly, there was a group of around 150 fighters that would organise resistance and disruption missions against the Nazi’s. Painfully, Aseal Bielski was conscripted into the Soviet Army and fell in one of the final operations of the War, but the rest of the brothers survived. The brothers story has been made famous by the book Defiance and its film adaption starring Daniel Craig.

Aristides de Sousa Mendes

De Sousa Mendes was a Portuguese consul-general in Bordeaux, France during World War II, and defied the orders of the Portuguese Dictator António de Oliveira Salazar by giving visas and passports to a huge amount of war refugees, including many Jews. Unfortunately, the number is unlikely to ever be discovered but many historians believe it to be in the tens of thousands, which would make it the largest rescue action by a single individual in the War. Though de Sousa Mendes had no Jewish beliefs, he was a devout Christian and held the Bible’s words “love thy neighbour” in the highest regard and worked tirelessly to sign the papers. After a period of obscurity and indeed disgrace due to the Portuguese dictatorship’s punishment, de Sousa Mendes was eventually recognised by his country and Israel recognized him as Righteous Among the Nations.

Maximilian Kolbe

Kolbe had made something of a name for himself prior to the War, having set up a Catholic missionary group that spread the faith around the world, as well as a magazine, monastery and radio station. But he raised himself to another level when the Nazis arrived. He hid two thousand Jews at his monastery until he was eventually arrested and sent to Auschwitz. Upon a prisoner escaping the camp, Nazi officers gathered up men to die for the escapee’s actions; when a prisoner tried to resist claiming he had a family, Kolbe volunteered in his place. The men were sentenced to starve to death and the priest led them in song and prayer until after two weeks he was the last man alive. A Nazi prison officer then injected him with carbolic acid to end the process; Pope John Paul II canonised Kolbe and named him the “Patron Saint of Our Difficult Century”.

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Easter Around the World

  • 29/03/2018
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Easter, as you may well know, is the Christian holy festival that celebrates the resurrection of Jesus that follows Good Friday, his crucifixion and burial. The Easter egg has become associated with the festival due to its ancient symbolism of new life and rebirth in western Christianity, but how does the rest of the world celebrate the most important holiday in the Christian religion?


European traditions and customs during Easter are surprisingly varied; In Norway its common for people to read crime-thriller novels and detective TV programmes, and its common in north-western Europe to light large ‘Easter Fires’ as a means for the community to come together. Sweden have an interesting custom in sending children dressed up as Easter witches to knock on doors and give small gifts such as paintings in return for sweets. A town in France called Haux is famous for making omelettes at this time of year; Napoleon famously ate some when his army was passing through and ordered the town to make them for the whole army the next day. A bizarre tradition which involves throwing water over the heads of unsuspecting girls originates from Hungary, and then there’s the ‘light spanking’ with decorative willow whips that boys give girls in the Czech Republic.

Rest of the World

In Haiti, the country takes this time of year very seriously and sees the countries original voodoo traditions mix with Catholicism – locals present body parts of a goat as an offering to the spirits and swim in a sacred lake, whilst others pray at the church and devout themselves to God, whilst the whole country enjoys ‘rara’ music played on bamboo trumpets, drums and even coffee jars. Brazil enjoys making straw caricatures of Judas, which are then beaten, burned and destroyed. In the Philippines locals are renown for self-flagellation by whipping themselves with bamboo sticks in a recreation of Jesus’ suffering, and in similar fashion Indonesians bear the cross to replicate his trials and tribulations.

So, on behalf of Vandu Language Services and our associates, have a wonderful Easter weekend!

Do you require any assistance with the language of the countries you’ve just read about? Please email or call 01273 743986 for further information!

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The Creation of Sign Language

  • 15/03/2018
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This week marks British Sign Language week in England, and what better time to rediscover the history and creation of sign language?

If you’ve kept up with our previous blogs on the histories of language, you’ll probably notice that there’s rarely a definitive answer on ‘who’ creates a language, and the same can be said for signing. Our oldest ancestors likely used a version of sign language by gesturing, such as pointing and beckoning. Sign systems were in use throughout the world much earlier than you would think, the evidence of which dates back to the 1400’s where an Amazon tribe were seen communicating between each other and neighbouring tribes. However, until the 18th Century the deaf and dumb were widely considered to be unintelligent and incapable of language, which is probably why there were not any widely-used or popularised sign language systems.

The very first true sign language that was widely used was the Old French Sign Language, used initially by the deaf on the streets of France, but popularised by Abbé Charles-Michel de l'Épée, whom started a deaf school in 1760, but made his teachings available to the public; Laurent Clerc, a graduate and former teacher in de l'Épée’s school, went to the United States with Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet to create the American School for the Deaf at Hartford – fully formed sign languages would start to appear around the globe from there on.

Happy British Sign Language week to all our customers and colleagues!

If you require any assistance for BSL interpreting, we’re happy to help! Please call us on 01273 473986 or email

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Independent Ghana

  • 08/03/2018
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This week marks the anniversary of Ghana’s Independence, the first sub-Saharan state to diverge from European rule. The country inherited English as its main language due to the British Empire’s control of the area, but there are now nine government-sponsored languages, including Twi and several of its dialects, and Ga, the oldest recognised Ghanaian language. In this blog we’ll have a look at the history of Ghana, through its independence process to its current state of affairs.

Following the “scramble for Africa” The British Empire’s colonial rule over Ghana began in earnest on the 24th of July 1874 and lasted nearly 70 years; over this period the British made use of Ghana’s vast natural resources – it gained its colonial name the “Gold Coast” due to its large deposits of the valuable metal, as well as other natural commodities. As money flowed through the region, towards the beginning of the 20th century The Gold Coast saw significant economic and social development and became something of a ‘showpiece’ colonial state for the British, and as more Ghanaians became educated, the seeds of nationalist thought and independence were sown amongst this new elite-African class.

By the end of the 2nd World War, the tide was turning against the British Empire, and indeed marked the decline of all the European empires. The War had left Britain nearly bankrupt, and unable to retain the same level of control over its colonies; this dovetailed with the rise of educated Ghanaians, the return of disenfranchised War veterans (ripe for nationalist ideology), the recent Indian declaration of Independence and the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi and its influence on Kwame Nkrumah, the eventual first Prime Minister of Ghana. With the change to Britain’s foreign policy, Kwame would eventually navigate his way through Ghana’s political system and gather mass support for Ghana’s Independence, and the country celebrated its first day of self-governance on the 6th March 1957.

So how has Ghana fared since its liberation? After Kwame was overthrown in a coup d’état by the military, Ghana experienced some rough patches politically and economically, but since the elections of 2000 it has seen legitimate transfers of power from one head of government to another, and is now considered a stable democracy. Ghana is economically strong due to its natural resources and its comparatively good management, and an indication of how well the country is doing is its healthy tourism industry. Since its independence Ghana has come to be seen as one of the leaders of Africa, and it looks likely to continue in that way.

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  • 01/03/2018
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Holi is an ancient spring festival celebrated initially in India but has spread throughout the continent and even through to Europe and the United States. The festival is a celebration of the triumph of good over evil, coming from one of the many symbolic legends of Vishnu. The event tends to take place in late February or early March, and this year it falls on the 1st of March.

The Legend

According to Hinduisms Mahapuranas (the Great Histories or religious texts) a Demon King named Hiranyakashipu had received a blessing which made him near-immortal; he could be killed by neither human nor animal, neither day or night, outdoors or indoors, nor by projectile or handheld weapons, or on land, air, or water. In his invincibility the Demon King grew arrogant and forced all to worship him. However, his own son Prahlada disobeyed him and still worshipped Vishnu, which infuriated Hiranyakashipu and he subjected his son to extreme punishments, none of which weakened Prahlada’s resolve. Finally, the Demon King’s sister Holika (the festivals namesake) wished to trick her nephew into his death; she wore a cloak that was immune to fire and got her nephew to sit on a pyre with her, but as the flames began to rise the cloak flew from her to Prahlada and she burned. In this moment Vishnu appeared as Narasimha – half human half lion– and took to the Demon King at dusk, forced him to his doorstep which was neither indoors nor outdoors, sat Hiranyakashipu on his lap which was neither land, nor air, nor water and ripped him apart with his lion claws, which were neither projectile nor handheld weaponry. Religious persecution was then banished from the land and Prahlada ruled peacefully over it.

Customs and Traditions

Holi is one of the most culturally significant festivals in Hinduism, as it marks the victory of good over evil, a day to forgive oneself and others of past errors and the beginning of spring in India. Preparations begin the night before Holi, in the Holika Dahan, a bonfire to celebrate the burning of Holika and the banishment of evil. The following day features the event that the festival is famous for: Rangwali Holi - the paint fight in which everyone is a possible target, regardless of age, status or gender. The day is generally without prayer or religious ceremony and is purely for fun and enjoyment. Though these two features of Holi are pretty much staples wherever the festival is taking place, other events occur depending on the region such as in Mathura in North India, where the festival last a week rather than two days, and women playfully beat shielded men with sticks after the paint fight.  

So, on behalf of Vandu, Happy Holi to all our friends and colleagues!


At Vandu we provide interpreters and translations for many of India’s languages, such as Urdu, Punjabi, Bengali, Hindi and Tamil. Please call 01273 473986 or email for more information.

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