21 Years of the National Holocaust Centre
Experience Nottinghamshire’s Jayne Nightingale visits the National Holocaust Centre and Museum
In a corner of North Nottinghamshire, handily positioned between Ollerton and Newark, the National Holocaust Centre and Museum have just celebrated their 21st birthday. When London and the UK’s other major cities overlooked the importance of creating a memorial that informs and educates surrounded by beautiful gardens, Nottingham and the Smith family stepped up and created a national venue that we should all be very proud of.
The team have gone out of their way to ensure that the centre is a beacon of light and hope as well as providing an engaging and educational lesson in understanding how discrimination and prejudice can lead to a broken society and greater tragedies. Children are given a special welcome with interactive exhibitions that tell a story that’s deliberately kept age appropriate and the many hundreds of UK wide school visits bears testament to just how successful this is. There’s something quite refreshing about seeing the museum through the eyes of the young and they each come away with a vital lesson in personal responsibility, fairness and justice.
I’ve been lucky enough to time my visits to include the personal testimony of a Holocaust survivor and there simply cannot be anything more compelling that hearing a survivor talk about their personal experience – I was glued to my seat and hanging on every word. They speak with dignity and clarity and it is humbling to hear how they have embraced life since then – a lesson to us all.
As the years pass and the survivors sadly leave us, the centre have already embraced digital technology and are planning to offer ‘The Forever Project’, an ambitious 3D interactive programme that will preserve the voice of Holocaust survivors for generations to come.
There are 2 permanent exhibitions and secondary school age children and adults simply must start with the Holocaust Exhibition, charting Jewish life before the war, the rise in discrimination and anti- Semitism and the aftermath which culminated in The ‘Final Solution’ – the name given to the Nazi plan to exterminate the Jewish population of Europe. This claimed the lives of two thirds of the Jewish population of Europe – six million people – plus an additional five million people from other groups including gypsies, the disabled and Soviet prisoners of war. Amongst the sobering reality of the exhibitions are tales of survival and courage and none more so than Sir Nicholas Winton MBE, a remarkable man who saved the lives of 669 children in an operation later known as the Czech Kindertransport.
The Journey is the first exhibition in the UK to be created with primary school aged children in mind and it follows the story of Leo Stein, a 10 year old German Jewish boy, living with his parents and younger sister Hannah. By following Leo’s life from his family home, through to his Journey to England on the Kindertransport, visitors to the museum learn about the impact of Nazi propaganda, anti-Jewish measures, and anti-Semitism. Lots of interaction, artefacts that can be picked up and examined and a narrative told in a way that connects with younger children.
My latest visit to the Centre was in conjunction with their 21st anniversary and this occasion was made even more special by the visit of the wonderful Eva Schloss, who launched the UK opening of her mobile exhibition, ‘The Promise’ to commemorate the life of her brother Heinz. Eva and her family escaped from Austria and spent two years in hiding in the Netherlands where she was captured on her 15th birthday, then spent nine months in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Sadly, her father and brother didn’t survive and after the war, Eva’s mother married Otto Frank, father of Anne Frank. Eva had promised Heinz, a talented musician and artist, that should he not survive, she would ensure that his memory lived on and this exhibition includes images of many of his wonderful pieces of art.
When you visit, do make sure you visit the well-stocked Museum shop and take a break in the tea room. And be sure to build in time for reflection in the beautiful Memorial Gardens, set in an acre of landscaped countryside and a place for individuals to remember those lost to the Holocaust. Stop and take in the Rose Garden, with more than one thousand highly scented white roses all individually dedicated to those murdered in the Holocaust. And don’t forget to lay a stone at the Children’s Memorial, dedicated to the young people murdered in the Holocaust. Visitors are invited to select a stone from the trough and place it on the memorial in tribute to one of the 1.5 million individual children who died.
I truly believe that the National Holocaust Centre and Museum should be on everyone’s list of places to visit. The world, sadly, isn’t always the kindest of places plus it’s sometimes a really good idea to give ourselves a reality check about what’s important in life. To be able to do this in such calm and relaxing surroundings, whilst giving ourselves a vital history lesson, is a bonus and how lucky we are that Nottinghamshire is home to this inspiring and world leading attraction.