This article was originally published in the Jewish Chronicle: here
This is so much more than a Holocaust Education Programme
Since February of this year, in the dark winter months and in the midst of a global pandemic, a very new and very different Holocaust education programme came to the fore. Dynamic, interactive and modular, the Making History Together programme, aimed at young people (12 and 13-year-olds) takes the participants on a journey while exploring hidden history – the story of the Jews of the Soviet Union and specifically Belarus between 1941 and 1944. Every month the participants receive a beautifully illustrated pack and a secret envelope revealing hidden history and each pack is completed with a 90-minute informal education online session. The programme has been carefully curated and is interwoven with a fascinating array of films and activities.
The programme was the brainchild of Debra Brunner, co-founder and CEO of The Together Plan, a UK charity working to revive Jewish life in Belarus today. Partnering and supporting the programme is the UK Charity Jewish Child’s Day and the Jewish Chronicle are the official media partner.
This month we decided to hear from the parents of the programme participants, in this its inaugural year:
The programme is run so well. The way you keep the parents informed of what they are learning ahead of and then after each session is fantastic. The monthly packs are wonderful, brilliantly put together. I think the fact that you are running a parallel programme for non-Jewish children in Belarus is so important. When I read that they had actually been taken to the site of a death camp I felt very moved. It’s so important for the Belarusian teens to finally be learning about their country’s hidden past. I am personally also learning so many interesting things from reading what you provide. For example, the village that hid many Jewish children – I had never heard of it. So interesting. Each session has been brilliant in its own way. This is not just another zoom lesson! It has really piqued my son’s interest and he looks forward to each session.
The programme is so much more than historic facts. It takes the participants on a journey of exploration to discover this little known but immensely vital history, and why it was hidden. Through history, the programme explores concepts such as identity, power, leadership and antisemitism, with activities and interaction along the way.
I look forward to the monthly packs landing on the doormat. They’re well written for both adults and teens, pitched at a level without presuming prior knowledge of history or politics whilst being sensitive to the difficult subject matters. I am enjoying reading about this as a parent. This is helping to uncover hidden history and I’m collecting the packs to keep. I have learnt a bit of Yiddish, Esperanto, Polish and Russian on the way too. The online sessions pitched at 90 minutes a month is nothing compared to hours every day the children have had to endure on school Zoom during lockdown. Whatsmore the format enables facilitators from all over the world to participate, giving an even richer source of learning than would have been possible pre-Covid. My only lowlight is that we can’t travel to Belarus yet to see the work in action.
The programme booklets have been created to be visually appealing, tactile and easy to navigate with many images and hand-drawn illustrations which were produced by Chloe Kimmel, a volunteer with The Together Plan, who began her journey as a teenager travelling to Belarus with the charity to run their first-ever summer programme in 2010.
We have been so impressed with the programme generally, and Logan loves receiving and reading through each new pack as it arrives. Learning this history is so important, particularly in the wake of recent events, and the recent increase in antisemitic activity around the world. As an adult, I am learning so many new things for sure, though much of what I have learned has been distilled through my son’s lens, which in a way is even better. I am so proud of the work he has been doing and impressed by the discussions that the facilitators have been having with the participants each month. Personal highlights of the programme have been watching some of the video interviews with survivors which are fascinating, and so incredibly moving. My son has been fully engaged from start to finish.
The Making History Together Programme will culminate with a travelling exhibition and will be running again in 2022. If you would like to know more or to book a place, please do get in touch.