When applying to become a UCL Beacon school for Holocaust Education, we realised early on in the process that Northampton High School had an amazing opportunity to bring together the fantastic range of lessons and personal experiences already being shared with the students. From studying human rights in Geography, to life in Berlin under the National Socialists, in German lessons, students were gaining an understanding of how the legacy of the Holocaust still has an impact on the world to this day.
It therefore made perfect sense to bring the school together for a week of focused education and reflection, rather than just one day’s remembrance on the official date of January 27.
Theology and Philosophy and History lessons were an obvious starting point, but very quickly we were able to assemble a week-long series of focused assemblies, lessons and events involving staff from Psychology, Drama, Film, Food, and English, to name but a few, as well as a team of student volunteers from Year 8 to 13.
Reflecting on the week’s events with the volunteer student team, the Sixth Formers overwhelmingly agreed that Ms Heimfeld’s assembly and lunchtime session had the most impact on them, hearing about how her parents survived Auschwitz in very different ways. Georgie expressed how hearing about it from a child of survivors brought a different perspective that she hadn’t considered before. They were all fascinated and moved to hear how life continues after such experiences.
One member of the team, Molly, explained how impactful she had found researching and sharing individual stories under the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust’s theme of ‘One Day’. As an older student she was aware of the statistics – 6 million Jews murdered, including 1.5 million Jewish children – but found investigation into and reflection on the individual stories deeply moving and perspective-altering. Another student, Bella, commented how varied survivor stories are, and, again, how the personal connection widened understanding of more components of the Holocaust, such as the geography of the Holocaust and the ethnicities affected, rather than just the history of it through facts and statistics.
We learned about survivors like Lily Ebert, Margaret and Hans Rey and Florence Nankivell, sharing our findings in a recorded assembly on Monday. One powerful element of the assembly was the contribution of Lilybella whose Oma (Grandmother) and Opa’s (Grandfather) families experienced the Holocaust. We loved Lilybella’s interview with her grandparents who shared with us a positive message of hope, love and peace for the future. Opa passionately made a connection to our challenges today with refugees urging kindness and compassion. Oma and Opa closed the interview with the beautiful expression of ‘Shalom’ (meaning hello, goodbye, peace, harmony, wholeness and prosperity) to us all.
Other members of the team, including Florence, felt they were now thinking differently about when this happened, realising that it really was not that long ago. Film screenings (for example Modern Foreign Language’s showing of ‘The Roundup’) and personal testimonies enhanced realisation that the Holocaust is still in living memory.
The students also spoke about how they had shared their thoughts and feelings with families. The whole team had found dinner time an opportunity to have conversations with parents and siblings, who, in turn, shared their understanding of the Holocaust. Some students spoke of an emotional exchange, others of a storytelling atmosphere and others moving from the Holocaust to subsequent genocides, politics, history, religion and other relevant topics. All triggered from our Holocaust Awareness week. They also felt it helped them engage more with the news, as they understood more about what was going on in the world today.
Jasmine and Honor reflected on how Mr Earp’s assembly on the Holocaust and subsequent genocides had been inspiring when he shared the personal experience of Arn Chorn-Pond who survived the Cambodian genocide. Born in Battambang (the second largest city in Cambodia), Arn was taken, along with thousands of other children, to prison camps by the Khmer Rouge. Arn’s ‘One Day’ of survival was simply about him being able to play the flute for which he was selected and used to entertain soldiers, avoiding death.
On Friday afternoon, a matzo making workshop was held for students to make a Jewish flatbread traditionally eaten during Passover. Matzo is an unleavened bread which doesn’t contain yeast, therefore helping to prevent it from rising (alongside docking the surface). The students, a mixture from Years 10, 8 and 7, really enjoyed making, learning about, and of course, eating the matzo. Matzo making was also incorporated into the Year 7 scheme of work. They researched into the history of matzo, before watching a demonstration on how it is made, and finished the lesson with taste testing. The students really enjoyed being introduced to this Jewish unleavened bread.
Holocaust Awareness Week at Northampton High School is a legacy. We are committed to Holocaust education, hoping that ‘never again’ really does become an accurate description of our future.
Miss Robinson & Ms Eldridge
Theology & Philosophy Department