As memory becomes history…

By Karen Pollock, February 1, 2013
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Over the past two weeks, people from all walks of life, all over the country, have joined together as a community to remember the victims of the Holocaust and subsequent genocides. The period around Holocaust Memorial Day is a momentous time to take stock - to remember the loss of life, the communities destroyed, the dreams cut short. It is also a chance for us to pay tribute to our Holocaust survivors, who so many of us look up to as heroes. And, as the years go by, it is also a time to look to the future.

When we think back on our schooldays we tend not to recall the repetitive geography lessons or the lengthy sessions on Auden's poetry. Instead, we remember events and people outside the classroom; events that were out of the ordinary. For the 60,000 British students who have heard a Holocaust survivor speak as part of our outreach programme over the past year, the hope is that this will be an experience they look back on, remember, and carry with them for the rest of their lives. It is always wonderful to see the profound impact of such testimony on young people.

These incredible individuals visit schools around the UK and beyond to share their stories, often braving long journeys and difficult conditions. In so doing, they - and we at the Holocaust Educational Trust - hope that students will gain an insight into what happened, question how and why this terrible event could take have occurred and consider their own responsibilities as human beings.

The younger generation - our future leaders, teachers, mothers and fathers - will sadly be the last to have the opportunity to hear eyewitness testimony. The survivors we work with are speaking more frequently and travelling further, aware that time is limited. The urgency is palpable. As the survivors work harder and harder to ensure their legacy, we need to make sure that we are doing everything we can, too. We need to reach more people and to engage with them on different levels.

Survivors are aware that time is limited

This is something we are working towards, for example with our latest resource, Introduction to the Holocaust: Footballers Remember, a short film featuring survivor testimony and the reflections of England footballers after their visit to concentration and death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau in June 2012.

In the not-too-distant future, the Holocaust will move from living history to "just" history, so we have to invest in young people to continue the legacy of the survivors. This week, we announced the names of 23 young people who will become regional ambassadors for HET. These teenagers feel a burden of responsibility to keep the Holocaust in the national consciousness when those who survived it can no longer do so. They will work with the thousands who have taken part in the Lessons from Auschwitz project. The dedication of the youths we work with should not be underestimated and it inspires confidence in our Holocaust survivors that their stories will not be forgotten.

As another HMD is marked and we enter another year, we should feel proud that this country takes Holocaust education and remembrance seriously and we should be determined to continue to educate future generations. It is now 25 years since HET was founded. In another 25 years, it will be almost a century since the Holocaust began. One hundred years is a huge span, particularly from a young person's perspective. The greatest challenge we face is how to ensure the continued legacy of the survivors, how to keep the Holocaust relevant and how to ensure that the Holocaust has a permanent place in our nation's collective history.

The passing of time does not mean that the Holocaust should be allowed to disappear into the annals of history. It is our mission, and we hope yours, too, that it does not.

Karen Pollock is chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust

Last updated: 9:45am, February 1 2013