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New Holocaust education charity to focus on the stories of non-Jews who saved Jews

Learning from the Righteous hopes to inspire schoolchildren by remembering "the courage of the few"

    Author Antony Lishak is taking the heroic stories of the Righteous into schools (photo: Potr Apolinarski)
    Author Antony Lishak is taking the heroic stories of the Righteous into schools (photo: Potr Apolinarski)

    Whenever Antony Lishak visits Warsaw, he stays at the zoo.

    The children’s author has long been familiar with events that took place there during the Second World War.

    Zookeepers Jan and Antonina Zabinski helped to save hundreds of Jews from the Nazis by secretly sheltering them within its grounds before they could be spirited to safety.

    The story inspired last year’s film The Zookeeper’s Wife as well as Mr Lishak’s own book Stars, published in 2014.

    But, even before that, he led educational trips to the Warsaw Zoo, where the Zabinskis’ villa is a museum.

    The former teacher has now established a new charity, called “Learning from the Righteous”, to develop “age-appropriate” Holocaust education for schools.

    Its name derives from the Righteous Among the Nations, the non-Jews formally recognised by Israel’s Yad Vashem for saving Jews during the War.

    His target age is 10-to-14-year-olds — “the pre-Holocaust Education Trust age group, who are old enough to start appreciating the story but not at the age to take to Auschwitz and talk about the ins and outs of the Final Solution”.

    Focusing on the exemplary “courage of the few”, who acted when others stood by, he said, “My intention is not to use their stories to sanitise the Holocaust. I talk about the historic context in which the acts took place. The most important thing is the concept of choice — people chose to act in a particular way.”

    Since giving up teaching full-time in 1996, he has continued to work in schools, leading creative workshops including ones based on his book, Stars.

    “I was using the story to inspire them, to consider what they could do to make the world a better place,” he said.

    Learning from the Righteous will concentrate this year on Irena Sendler, one of the best-known of the 6,700 Polish Righteous. Her network rescued many Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto and she escaped execution by the Nazis only through the bribery of a guard.

    The Polish government has designated 2018 as The Year of Irena Sendler to mark the 10th anniversary of her death. London’s Polish Embassy will show Mr Lishak’s exhibition about her at an event next Tuesday. His charity will launch two days earlier at the New North London Synagogue.

    A couple of months ago, he led a tour of teachers to Warsaw. “It was quite an eye-opener. They wouldn’t have come if they hadn’t been enthusiastic. But even among teachers like them there were so many gaps in their knowledge.”

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