Holocaust Memorial Day 2021
FREE Holocaust Memorial Day Resources listed below.
As we all stay indoors fearing for our lives at the hands of Covid-19, we unwittingly experience just a very little of the mental anguish that the Jewish population in Europe endured in the decade from the mid-1930s to the end of the Second World War. As the Nazi Party sought to ‘purify’ the population of Germany and beyond, they inflicted untold misery, cruelty and death on ethnic and religious groups that they deemed inferior and a danger to the National Socialist vision of the perfect society. In their eyes, these groups were best treated as vermin to be exterminated. For the last twenty years the world has remembered this appalling event on January 27th, Holocaust Memorial Day. In my Holocaust blog last January I highlighted an astonishing memoir by Michael Gruenbaum, Somewhere There is Still a Sun (Alladin), recalling his experience as a nine-year-old Jewish boy in Prague, and his incarceration in Terezin (Theresienstadt) which can be read here: https://www.armadillomagazine.co.uk/single-post/2020/01/31/holocaust-memories
This year we have two excellent works published under the fiction banner, but again based very closely on the childhood memories of survivors, and on family experience. Tom Palmer’s After the War (Barrington Stoke) tells the story of a small group of the three hundred Jewish children who were liberated from Theresienstadt and sent to the UK to recuperate, to Windermere in the Lake District. In 2013 The Lake District Holocaust Project was formed in memory of ‘The Windermere Boys’, a group of young people who arrived in the Lake District in the summer of 1945 and stayed for a few months, the last of them leaving in early 1946. Although they only spent a short time in the area, it was a profoundly important experience for them, and they made a big impression on those who met them.
Tom Palmer, already the respected author of a variety of historical novels for young people, based his investigations on information assembled by the staff of Lake District Holocaust Project; Trevor Avery, the Leader of the Project, and Rosemary Smith, and interviews with the surviving ‘boys’. Palmer developed this material into an easy-to-read, accurate and intensely moving short novel about teenagers Yossi, Mordecai and Leo, who arrive in Windermere terrified of everything as a result of their experiences. As they gradually recover under the sympathetic regime in place at the Calgarth Estate (long vanished now, but originally the accommodation for war workers building sea planes), they are equipped with the means to come to terms with their past and what the future might hold for them. Palmer tells it as it was; there are no blindingly happy endings, but each boy finds a way to move on in their life.
The Lake District Holocaust Project website is an excellent resource for information and photographs of the Windermere Boys, while Tom Palmer’s After the War page on his website features a wealth of resources for teachers, librarians and parents to use to help children engage with this book and the broader subject of the Holocaust and the Second World War. It includes short films made by the author explaining the book and his writing process, filmed both in Poland and the English Lake District. In addition, there are articles and blogs about how to write a story set in a historical period and how to research history; free posters for the classroom or library; a range of printable classroom resources, including a cover prediction exercise and others; and information about Tom Palmer’s school and library visits, where he can talk about After the War– around Holocaust Memorial Day and throughout the year.
In Liz Kessler’s latest book, When the World Was Ours, she presents readers with a part of her own family story, based on the experience of her father, her great-aunt and her great-grandmother. In 1939 when Czechoslovakia was invaded by the Nazis, he and his parents had, as a result of a chance meeting with British tourists five years earlier, received an offer of sanctuary from them. By accepting the offer, they were fortunate enough to be able to evade capture. In Kessler’s novel, the fictional version of her father - eight-year-old Leo - and his mother escape to England to live with their British friends. His father however has already been taken to a concentration camp by the Nazis. Leo is one of three close friends, each of whose story is told in individual short chapters throughout the book. Leo and Elsa are Jews, and the third is Max, whose Aryan father aspires to the elite lifestyle promised within Hitler’s Schutzstaffel (SS). Max himself is terrified of his father but increasingly realises that to avoid his father’s growing brutality he must attempt to please him by embracing Nazism.
Based on the wider Kessler family experiences, we follow the three school-friends, nine-year olds whose very different lives unfold year by year until the war’s end. Elsa endures first Theresienstadt and finally Auschwitz where she again encounters Max, whose background has taken him there for a very different purpose. Elsa’s experience is harrowing, but in many ways it is in the creation of Max that Kessler shows us how events and powerful influence can change people. In the Note which prefaces her book, Kessler says ‘Max’s story is my attempt to explore how many ordinary people could have become part of such a brutal, evil and horrific regime.’ The final very short chapter shows Leo as an old man, being interviewed by a teacher about his wartime past. He only agrees to the interview if the teacher accepts his story as ‘a baton’ which Leo passes to her instructing her to ‘do all she can to make sure it never happens again’. ‘Where you see injustice, you say so, and you encourage others to do the same.’
This is an immensely readable, engaging, horrifying and deeply affecting book, at the end of which Kessler provides information on many organisations whose work references the Jewish experience during the Second World War and beyond, and which readers can access. This surely is exactly why we continue to remember the Holocaust, not only to think of those who suffered it, but to inspire future generations to strive to ensure that nothing like it happens again.
FREE Holocaust Memorial Day Resources :
Children’s author Tom Palmer has worked with leading national partners to launch virtual and streamable resources to help schools, libraries and families mark Holocaust Memorial Day – Wednesday, 27 January 2021.
The FREE resources include :
1. a five-part story to read in school during the week of 27th January 2021 with the National Literacy Trust (available now here).
2. a pre-recorded 20 minute assembly for Y5 to Y8, talking about why we mark Holocaust Memorial Day with the National Literacy Trust (posted 22 January 2021, register your interest with them now here).
3. a series of films about developing writing and worksheets to support and inspire pupils to write their own responses with the National Literacy Trust (available now here).
5. a resource pack created around “After the War” by UCL Centre for Holocaust Education. Containing lesson plans and materials for KS3 History, RS, Cit and Eng (link will be posted here January 2021).
6. a CPD session hosted by UCL relating to “After the War” (booking open now here).
7. an interview with the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust about listening to survivor testimonies (https://youtu.be/Yza-1_kKF-g)
8. Blackout Poetry Challenge includes how to guide, examples, text and certificate, here.
The five-part read aloud story will be set in the present day about the visit of a Holocaust survivor to a UK school and how the children prepare and reflect on the experience. The survivor will be Yossi, one of the main characters from “After the War”, 75 years on from his liberation, age 91. The story will be from the point of view of the pupils and will be aimed at Y5 to Y8. It is not essential to have read “After the War” beforehand (but you can read Chapter 1 of the book for free here https://www.tompalmer.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/After-the-War_chapter-sample.pdf . There is more about it here: https://tompalmer.co.uk/after-the-war/
There are many ways to mark Holocaust Memorial Day 2021 using HMD Together, a set of resources designed to enable people to mark the day in meaningful ways with other people – even if you can’t gather together in person.
On Holocaust Memorial Day, join the nation in Lighting the Darkness. Light a candle and put it in your window at 8pm on 27 January to: remember those who were murdered for who they were and to stand against hatred and prejudice today
Please don’t forget to join in on the national Holocaust Memorial Day map by simply adding your assemblies, readalouds, lessons and activities here: https://www.hmd.org.uk/take-part-in-holocaust-memorial-day/activities-form/