In the first of our guest blogs to mark Holocaust Memorial Day 2017, the Trust’s Education Administrator Anna Lloyd reflects on her work with Holocaust survivors.
I first knew I wanted to work in the field of Holocaust education when I was studying for my undergraduate degree. In my second year, I took a class entitled ‘The Holocaust in Literature, Art and Drama.’ This course took place in the winter term, at 9am on a Monday morning. As students, myself and my peers felt this was quite possibly the worst timetable slot as we made our way to campus in the dark and cold early morning. However, it’s a class which has stuck with me and which has ultimately shaped my career. Towards the end of term, our lecturer invited a Holocaust survivor to share their testimony with us. This lesson made us realise the importance of what we were learning and made those early Monday morning starts worthwhile.
Four years later, I joined the Trust’s education team in September 2016. I specifically work on our Outreach programme, arranging for Holocaust survivors to visit schools, universities and other organisations throughout the year. Many students and their teachers tell us that these Outreach sessions constitute one of the best lessons of the year. Through working on the Outreach programme, I now have the honour and privilege of working closely with the survivor speakers who give up their time to pass on their experiences to the next generation. It is no understatement to say that these people are an inspiration to us all, and their voices need to be heard now more than ever.
The theme for this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day is How can life go on? Working with the survivors allows for the opportunity to reflect on this theme in two different ways. Firstly, the survivors with whom the Trust works are a living example of how life can and must continue, despite the hatred that spread through Europe in the twentieth century. Upon arriving in England, many of the survivors went on to have distinguished careers, such as in the NHS, in the technology world and within engineering. Furthermore, many married and are now surrounded by large families. A poignant moment for me from the last four months was listening to Steven Frank’s testimony as part of the Trust’s Lessons from Auschwitz programme. At the end of his talk, Steven showed us a wonderful photograph of himself and his wife, surrounded by their relatives. The strength displayed by survivors, to pick oneself up and make a new life, in a new country, is a firm example of how they have ensured that life will continue even when the spark of existence has almost been completely wiped out.
The second way in which the survivor speakers really highlight this year’s theme is through the work they now do. We recently held an Outreach event for the Trust’s speakers in London. Seeing almost forty survivors all together, discussing the ways in which we could better help them share their stories with students across the country was a real privilege. The survivors we work with are dedicated to reaching out to young people, passing on the importance of peace, tolerance and diversity. By doing this, the survivors make sure that their voices are heard, and that the next generation has an opportunity to move forward and make progress.
I’d like to finish with a short quote from The Long Night by Ernst Israel Bornstein, recently translated by his daughter Noemie Lopian. Upon liberation, Bornstein wrote "we [the survivors] were solitary islands in a freezing, foreign world… The world could not or did not want to understand our pain." For there to be progress, we must recognise our own responsibility. We need to take the time to listen to survivor stories, even if it is at 9am on a rainy Monday morning in darkest winter. When we have done this, it becomes our turn to pass these lessons on and to become bearers of memory. I feel privileged to have met and worked with the Trust’s survivor speakers. On this Holocaust Memorial Day, I will therefore be spending just as much time thinking about my own responsibility to the survivors as on reflecting how even though entire communities were taken and destroyed, these resilient and courageous individuals battled through to rebuild their lives in new, unknown countries.