15 October 2015
Simon Rothstein is editor of LJ Today
Like any parent with young children, I don’t know where to begin when it comes to teaching them about the Holocaust. How can you explain such horror and evil on such a huge scale?
How do you try to help them make sense of the fact that many of their ancestors died in pogroms and gas chambers simply because they were Jewish? And how can you ensure that for the next generation ‘never again’ is more than just a slogan?
That’s why the Jewish community and, arguably more importantly, wider society, is so lucky to have the National Holocaust Centre and Museum. Based in the East Midlands, and easily accessible to all parts of the country, it is open to schools and the general public on weekdays and Sundays. Every day at 1pm there is a talk by a Holocaust survivor which, alone, is worth the trip from wherever your synagogue or home is based.
The first thing you notice on arrival, is how calm and reflective it is. Away from the city, and surrounded by beautiful memorial gardens, you can’t help but contemplate. The day I visited was typically busy with a diverse range of people, including two school groups of mixed faiths, some Christian clergy and various individuals and families.
There are two main areas. The Holocaust Exhibition, aimed at children over 12 and adults, educates through a mix of artefacts, survivor testimony, archive footage, pictures and descriptions. It starts with a history of the Jews and antisemitism, before moving onto the rise of the Nazis, their propaganda and persecution of the Jews, the ghettos and ultimately the systematic murder of six million Jewish people. It ends with an uplifting look at the heroes who helped protect and save Jews.
Even for those of us familiar with the period, I guarantee you will learn something new. And the parallels to today’s world are startling, whether it’s the same path to genocide we’ve seen repeated far too often or other countries’ refusal to accept refugees, leaving them to die at the hands of an evil regime.
The second exhibition is one of the things that makes the Centre stand out. Titled The Journey, it is purposely aimed at younger children – looking at the life of a Jewish child called Leo in Nazi Germany. Each area perfectly recreates the period – from Leo’s classroom to a smashed up Jewish shop. In each, a video of Leo reveals the unfolding narrative.
Worried letters from his grandmother and being separated from his ‘Aryan’ best friend, escalate into him being thrown out of school, seeing his father’s business destroyed and ultimately fleeing on the Kindertransport. The result is an amazing and engaging way to teach the young about prejudice and persecution.
Finally, I attended a talk and Q&A by survivor Yvonne Franklin. By sharing her story, and answering every question, it captivated the school children in way that no book, or even exhibition, ever could.
Asked why she, and other survivors, give such talks, Yvonne summed up the very reason why I hope everyone reading this visits the Centre. She said: “I do this so that you think about it, talk about it and one day talk to your children about it – so that it never ever happens again.”
Synagogue groups and families are encouraged to visit the Centre. To book, call 01623 836 627 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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