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Posted on 02 Feb 2024

My Family, The Holocaust and Me - UCL workshop at the Imperial War Museum

Recently, WA history GCSE students and History Club members from Years 8-10 had the opportunity to visit the Imperial War Museum, taking part in a workshop centred around the Holocaust and visiting the Holocaust gallery.

The workshop was centred around the documentary ‘My Family, The Holocaust and Me’, which stars Robert Rinder (who visited the workshop) and tells the stories of the descendants of Holocaust survivors, including Bernie Graham, whose family we studied and who we had the opportunity to speak to during the day. For any who are uncertain, the Holocaust refers to the systematic murder of 6 million Jews by Nazi Germany. However, it is important to remember that it was not only Jews who died during the Holocaust, and many other groups including Roma, Sinti and homosexual people were killed during the Holocaust. The purpose of this trip was to gain an understanding of the Holocaust, but specifically its impact on individual people, for Holocaust Memorial Day, which was held on 27th January.

We started the day by walking into a room within the Imperial War Museum. There, we were given a short briefing on how the day would run. It was all normal until, to the shock of all of us, through the door came TV presenter and barrister, Robert "Judge" Rinder and Bernie Graham, who was the man in the documentary that we looked into. It was amazing to see them in person and they made the whole experience and workshop come to life. We reviewed what the Holocaust was, important events (such as the introduction of anti-Semitic laws and Nazi expansion) and other details about the family of Bernie and other families during the war. We then made our way to the Holocaust gallery, which really exposed the horrors of the Nazi regime and really brought the atrocities to reality. We saw videos of concentration camps, objects of significance to those that were killed, letters to family members and more. The latter made me feel sad for the victims of the Holocaust, because imagine what it would feel like sending a letter to a loved one, knowing you may never see them again. It must have been horrible. And it really makes you think, "Historians always throw all these numbers around, like 6 million people were killed.” It is easy to focus on the statistics rather than the people. 6 million people were killed. These were 6 million individual Jewish lives that were lost, almost a quarter of whom were children. Innocent lives were lost by the command of one man. 

Learning about something so profound and sensitive is an amazing opportunity. We personally feel it helped us gain more knowledge about the Holocaust but it isn’t just learning about the Holocaust, it is also learning about how it has affected the families 80 years later. The exhibit itself was extremely informative. It had extremely detailed cards about the copious amount of artefacts - everything around us had some historical significance. We got to learn about the stories of specific people who either survived the Holocaust or people who sadly died in the concentration camps. While we do learn about the Holocaust in school, having the in-depth knowledge about the specifics of what happened in excruciating detail is more of a learning experience than any normal history lesson (not that history lessons aren’t fun).

This visit not only allowed us to learn about the horrifying events of the Holocaust and the persecution of Jewish people during the Nazi regime but it allowed us to reflect upon the reasons why this particular genocide, being one of the most studied parts of History, is still relevant today. While visiting the Holocaust galleries, one of the rooms that particularly distressed us contained photos that documented some of the most horrific crimes committed by members of the Einzatsgruppen during that time. What was important and shocking is what now looks like a normal woodland near Kyiv, Ukraine, is actually considered to be one of the mass graves dug by Nazis. As the lady explained, a small museum was built there and was recently destroyed following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Holocaust Memorial Day is a time when we remember the murder of 6 million innocent people and from the pain and sorrow we learn great lessons of love, peace and humanity. One of us had the chance to ask Rob about how his deep research has impacted his understanding of the Holocaust over the years and we learned from him that despite everything we know about the Holocaust, what happened, who the perpetrators were, there is still so much we have not discovered - so many people we have not be able to trace. We also learned from Bernie that a substantial amount of personal belongings and family heirlooms such as expensive artworks and jewellery have not been found nor returned. He also stated that it was only around two years ago that he and many other Jewish individuals impacted by the Holocaust were able to claim back their German citizenship, which was telling of how far we still have to go in educating ourselves and generations to come about this bleak time in history to bring about change and stop ongoing and future genocides; most importantly, to build better, stronger and united societies not divided by religion nor race.

We are grateful to the education teams from UCL and the IWM for giving us an opportunity to expand our knowledge and understanding of the Holocaust and special thanks to Rob Rinder and Bernie for providing us with such personal stories and experiences.

Arthur, Naqib, Shryan and Rola, Year 10


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