In January – our new Holocaust exhibition travelled to Yavneh College in Borehamwood (Hertfordshire) for a week long visit running up to Holocaust Memorial Day.
Among the activities we supplied the school with as an accompaniment to the exhibition included a workshop entitled ‘Discovering Hidden History’.
Focusing on a part of the exhibition that talks about Jewish partisans – we asked the students to find the section on ‘Anna Machiz’ and we gave them the following information:
Anna Machiz’s nephew, Leonid Tsyrinskiy was born on 16th May 1941 in Rudensk, a village south of Minsk (the capital of Belarus) – a month before the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. He was 4 by the time the war ended. Anna’s writings were locked away by the Soviet Government because it was considered anti-Soviet to highlight a Jewish suffering. Better to say that all Soviet citizens suffered together during the ‘Great Patriotic War’. Leonid wrote a book and included the writings of his aunt Anna Machiz. Only 200 copies of that book were ever printed in the Russian language. One of those copies was handed to Debra Brunner in 2017, the founder and CEO of The Together Plan Charity. Under the care of The Together Plan the book has been translated into English and will be published in 2023. The students were told that they are among the first people to learn this hidden history and that the world is yet to discover it.
We then asked the teachers to put some questions to the students:
- Was Anna a good leader?
- Did Anna have ‘power’ even though she was a prisoner in a ghetto?
- Did Anna have ‘power’ as a partisan?
- Did Anna use her ‘power’ for good?
- What leadership qualities did Anna have?
- Was Anna a changemaker?
- Should we know this history and if yes why?
- How can you be a changemaker in your daily lives?
The teachers invited the students to write a letter to Leonid, who is still alive and living in Minsk. The letters, and there were hundreds of them, were compiled into a book which was decorated and handed to Debra Brunner, who sent the book on to Belarus.
The book has now been presented to Leonid Tsyrinskiy. The presentation not only came as a total surprise to him, it was a deeply emotional and moving moment. That hundreds of children in the UK now knew about the bravery and heroic deeds of his beloved aunt was nothing short of miraculous and that they had taken the time to write and that their teachers had collated them into a book for him, was deeply moving. Leonid, now 81 years old, never believed anyone would ever learn about Anna Machiz, or that people would learn about the atrocities of the Minsk Ghetto.
In participating in the activity – every student at Yavneh College became a changemaker, taking steps to positively and collaboratively impact the life of someone they have never met.
Anna Machiz, during her darkest days in the Minsk Ghetto and in the Naliboki forest as a partisan, could not imagine that her bravery and actions would one day positively impact hundreds of children in a school in north London and will continue to reach more children as the ‘Making History Together’ Programme and exhibition grows. How much strength she would have drawn from that knowledge. Her story is not forgotten.
For more information about the Making History Together programme, click here.
For more information about the Making History Together travelling exhibition and submit an enquiry, click here.
The book ‘Anna Machiz – Testimonies of Tragedy and Resistance in the Minsk Ghetto 1941-1943’ which is being translated by The Together Plan, will be published later this year.