Year 9 at the National Holocaust Memorial Centre

Year 9 visited the National Holocaust Memorial Centre near Newark and met Holocaust survivor Ruth Schwiening. Born Ruth Auerbach, both her grandparents and aunts and uncles perished in the camps. Her father, mother, two brothers and herself all made it to England as refugees in 1939, but this was not straightforward. Her father applied for a visa through the British Embassy in Berlin and was ‘lucky’ enough to have his case dealt with by Frank Foley. Frank Foley was a British official who interpreted the rules as flexibly as possible in order to get as many Jews as possible visas for Britain. However, Ruth was put in an orphanage and did not travel with the family. She was then sent on a Kindertransport to the UK and fostered for over a year, before being reunited with the family. In this time she forgot her native language and her real mother. Now a language teacher, she is married to a German man who she met as a student in Berlin and is a proud grandmother of eight grandchildren.
Meredith Armstrong found the chronology of the exhibition set alongside personal stories very helpful. This had really helped her to imagine the individual lives behind the statistic that millions perished. Similarly, Anna Taylor had spent time looking at the faces in the photo introduction and this had really helped her to connect with the human stories of the Holocaust. Laura Bamford found herself quite overwhelmed by the sheer inhumanity of the event.
Girls thought hard about the challenging question for the day. They were asked to think about who had choices in the Holocaust story. Katy Jackson, Jessica Tse and Frances Heald were struck by how choices made a difference between life and death. Ruth Schwiening’s mother chose to travel to Berlin not Vienna, when the family were forced off the farm. This decision brought the family within the orbit of Frank Foley and led to the visas for the UK.
Lots of girls, including Hettie McBeath, engaged with the idea that people who were not the Nazis chosen victims had choices. This is disturbing for us today. Do we stand up for people who are being grouped and demonised in our society, or are we bystanders?
Alizee Currell missed this visit when she was in Year 9 and so joined the group this year. She had been part of the enrichment session about the Rwandan genocide and was struck by the parallels between what happened there twenty years ago and the Holocaust. She had learnt the week before that there are steps to genocide and it starts with demonising and stereotyping groups of people, before moving to avoidance and acts of violence. She asked, who do we group and demonise?
Jessica Tse was moved by the fact that survivors can still talk to audiences about their experiences, despite the painful memories that these retellings bring back. We are very grateful to the National Holocaust Memorial Centre for the work they do and the opportunity girls receive to engage with this terrible subject and to meet remaining survivors.
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