St Matthias School Visits the National Holocaust Centre
45 year 8 students made a journey to Nottingham to visit the National Holocaust Centre on 24th February 2020. The visit was planned to support the work on Judaism that students have been doing in their RE lessons.
The journey began with students watching the movie, ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’. When we arrived at The Holocaust Centre students received an introduction from one of the experienced educators at the Centre who helped them to focus on the impact of the Holocaust throughout history. The Holocaust Centre has a fantastic permanent exhibition that brings the events surrounding the Holocaust to life as well as beautifully landscaped memorial gardens that are designed to encourage you to think more deeply about the impact that this period in history had. Our students were given helpful workbooks as well as a specific question to think about and investigate using information from the memorial gardens and exhibition.
Our students rose to the challenge and carefully explored the exhibition with interest and enthusiasm, asking further questions about what they could see. They explained what happened but also what influenced people’s actions. When we went into the memorial gardens our students each placed a stone on the children’s memorial in memory of one child that had died during the holocaust. The huge pile of stones helped the students to visualise the impact more easily. Our stones were laid as recognition that we had been, seen and had understood.
Students then had the unique opportunity to listen to a Holocaust survivor’s testimony, a gentleman named Arek Hersh. Arek, aged 91, shared with us his own personal story from his beginnings in Sieradz, Poland to his experience in concentration camps including Auschwitz Birkenau. He showed us his Auschwitz tattoo and explained that at that point in his life he was known as a number and not by his name. Our students were particularly impressive during this part of the visit and showed a real ability to empathise asking some incredible questions such as ‘What was the scariest moment in your life?’ ‘Would you ever forgive the Nazi’s?’ ‘Did your experience make you lose your faith?’ and ‘What made people so determined to survive?’ After Arek had finished talking he signed copies of his book for our students and also engaged with many one to one conversations with them where the students got to thank him for his testimony and also ask him even more questions! This visit certainly made an impact on our students. They realised what a privilege it was to meet Arek, they are the last generation of students that will ever get to meet a holocaust survivor. Our students also made an impact on the Centre with our Holocaust Centre guide personally commenting on how excellent our students had been and praising in particular the quality of their questions. On the journey home we asked each student to reflect on what the best part of the day had been for them and here are some of their comments which, I am sure you will agree, sum up what a fantastic day had been had by all! ‘The best part of my day was learning about Arek’s life and what he went through’ Domantas
‘My favourite part of the day was speaking to Arek in Polish, I also come from the same city in Poland’ Vanessa ‘The best part of the day was adding a stone to the pile in the garden’ Karina ‘I have learnt that out of Holocaust survivors there are only 5 alive in England because the others have died’ Mannat ‘I learnt that Hitler not only discriminated against Jews, but homosexuals, gypsies, disabled people and other ‘different’ people’ Aaliyah ‘My best bit of the day was meeting Arek Hersh and hearing his experience, and now (because I have bought his book) getting to read about it too’ Macie