The National Holocaust Centre offers a chance to reflect on one of the darkest chapters in modern history
As a history student at school I read extensively about the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany during the Holocaust. However, it wasn’t until I visited Oświęcim in Poland, the place where the Nazis built their largest concentration camp Auschwitz, that I was fully able to grasp the scale of the tragedy. It was here that more than one million Jews, dissidents and other groups were systematically murdered or left to perish. I had gone to the camp on an icy-cold March day and as the wind whipped through the exposed site I will never forget the sense of emptiness and desolation that hung in the air.
On first impressions, the National Holocaust Centre and Museum in Nottinghamshire might seem to be a world away from the bleakness I had felt at Auschwitz. Located in Laxton, a charming village close to Newark, the centre is surrounded by green fields and immaculate gardens which are full of life. Also known as Beth Shalom, or House of Peace, the centre was set up by brothers Drs Stephen and James Smith in a former school house in 1995 following two life-changing trips to Israel when they realised that the effects of the Holocaust had implications not just for the Jewish community but for us all.
It was a warm summer’s day when I visited the centre and the garden was in full bloom. I started by looking around the permanent exhibition which chronicles the events leading up to the Holocaust. Using a mix of information boards, photographs and artefacts from the time, visitors can find out about Jewish life in Europe, including the deep-rooted anti-Semitism faced by many. As I walked through the gallery, the all-too-familiar events of the early 20th century began to unfold: Germany’s disillusionment after the First World War followed by the rise of Hitler and the Nazis, the passing of the so-called racial purity laws, the establishment of the Warsaw Ghetto and of course the Holocaust itself. The horrors of what happened are inescapable but the events are handled with tremendous sensitivity which makes the museum accessible to people of all ages and backgrounds.
Towards the end of the exhibition there is an opportunity to see what happened after the Allies liberated the camps and the long process of rebuilding lives began. The Holocaust Centre has always welcomed survivors who speak about their experiences, often highlighting the dangers of anti-Semitism and racial hatred.
After I had finished looking around the museum I walked into the Memorial Gardens to reflect on some of the things I had seen. The beautifully-landscaped gardens are incredibly peaceful and full of moving tributes to Holocaust victims, including a sculpture of Anne Frank. There are also white roses which have been planted by families in memory of their loved ones and the garden has become a place of pilgrimage for many.
Over the years, the centre has welcomed people from throughout the world including Lithuania, Israel, Poland, Germany Russia and the US, as well as many from Nottinghamshire. In addition to the exhibition, visitors can also buy books and films from the shop.
Further information, including dates for guest speakers and resources available, can be found on Holocaust Centre website.