Incredible, unique, inspiring, extraordinary – just some of the words people are using to describe the Making History Together travelling exhibition which this week visited its first school. For the entire week running up to Holocaust Memorial Day it played a central role in the activities around Holocaust education for the school community at Yavneh College in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire.
Throughout the week, the different year groups were given the opportunity to interact with the exhibition – being granted special permission by the school to use their phones and headphones to scan the embedded QR codes to access specially curated films and bonus materials.
We supplied the College with a pack of suggested workshops for different age groups including a treasure hunt for the younger years to help them look for specific pieces of information across the six themes of the exhibition.
The exhibition is a supplementary learning tool that came out of The Together Plan’s Making History Together programme – a safe and age appropriate introduction to the Holocaust with a focus on the Jews in the Soviet Union and specifically Belarus.
Very few people know about the history of the Holocaust in the Soviet Union. After 1945, the Soviet Union declared that all Soviet citizens suffered during the war, making it almost impossible for Jewish people to speak about their suffering or tell their stories of survival. Approximately 2.7 million of the six million Jews killed between 1939 and 1945 were in the Soviet Union. Understanding what happened to the Jews in the Soviet Union helps give clarity to understanding the Holocaust – a complex and difficult subject. Today in Belarus – there is no official Holocaust education programme. As a result of the history of the Holocaust being suppressed after the war (and no Holocaust education in Belarus) little is known about what happened in the country. Our programme is slowly being introduced in Belarus to enable young people there to start learning their own history. That is why we are ‘making history together’. In Belarus there was strong Jewish resistance between 1941 and 1944 and there were many Jewish partisans. For this reason, we believe that this is a very good place for young people to start their Holocaust education journey. In fact, we believe this is a great starting point for anyone’s journey through the history of the Holocaust, regardless of age.
Making History Together is about teaching the values of being a changemaker through the lens of history, specifically what happened to Jews in Belarus during the Holocaust.
Making History Together is about remembrance , it is a journey of discovery, it’s about learning how to be a changemaker, and exploring how to be the best version of ourselves. We do this by understanding history.
The workshops that took place at Yavneh were immensely thought provoking and hugely successful. The children explored the themes of ‘power’ and ‘leadership’ through the lens of personal stories. They learned the story of a child survivor, Arthur Poznanski, whose life was saved by the one item he had left in his life – a spoon that was in his pocket the night he jumped from a train. The spoon deflected a bullet when Nazis shot at him as he tried to escape into the woods. The spoon was all that Arthur had left from that part of his life and he passed it onto his children. The story of Arthur enabled the children at Yavneh to think about the value of the artefacts that they have in their own families which have been passed down from generation to generation and to help them to appreciate everything they have in their lives. As a result of this workshop the students produced a stunning art installation made of spoons.
A second workshop explored the true story of a former prisoner and resistance leader from the Minsk Ghetto, Anna Machiz, who escaped the ghetto and became a partisan. They learned how, when she was a partisan in the forest,she bravely recorded on a typewriter all that she had witnessed in the Minsk Ghetto, but that her memoirs were locked away for years never to be read. In recent years, Anna’s nephew Leonid wrote a book to bring attention to Anna’s long forgotten memoir. The Together Plan has translated the book and it will shortly reach the English speaking world. The Yavneh students each wrote a letter to Leonid all of which have been put into a book that will be sent on the next humanitarian aid lorry that The Together Plan will be sending to Belarus in March. Yavneh told us ‘it has been an incredible week’ and we are absolutely delighted.
Will these lessons help the students at Yavneh College to think about the power that each of them has to make their school community a better place – to show care, kindness, respect and appreciation of each other and their teachers, and to extend that attitude to their families and friends outside of school? Only time will tell – but what we can say is that for one week – they worked together to be introspective and think about their roles in society using the lessons of the past. The final word from Yavneh at the end of school on Friday was ‘it’s been a fantastic week’.
The exhibition is now being translated and we will be producing a second copy to be sent to Belarus later this year. Currently there is no official Holocaust education in Belarus so this will be a very important learning tool as that exhibition starts to travel to schools and libraries throughout the country.
The Making History Together programme – is a virtual programme, with six sessions on Zoom. The programme starts on February 26th – and the booking line is open. You can read more here. Beautifully designed packs arrive in the post (one pack a month for six months). It is an informal learning programme – so there is no homework and for parents it is a very good way to introduce their children to the subject of the Holocaust. As a result of the programme – we have been able to start a Making History Together programme in Belarus. We are working with a partner organisation in Minsk, the Kamensky College, and for the first time, young people are starting to explore the story of the Holocaust in their own country – the story that was suppressed as a legacy of the Soviet years.
There will be an online information session about the Making History Together programme on Wednesday 1st February at 7pm GMT for anyone thinking of signing up for the February programme. To register click here.