Family & Education

A creative approach to Holocaust education can help reach more people

The National Holocaust Centre & Museum is using new ways of engaging audiences


Visitors at the launch of the National Holocaust Centre's Eye as Witness exhibition at the South Hamstead Synagogue Centre. Credit: David Parry

The Holocaust was introduced into the national history curriculum in English schools 30 years ago, ten years before the first Holocaust Memorial Day in the UK in 2001.

While Holocaust education is now embedded in the formal school curriculum, its impact can never be taken for granted. No organisation has given more thought to how to reach the youth of today than the National Holocaust Centre and Museum in Nottinghamshire, which since its opening in late 1995, has built up a reputation for innovation and creativity.

Its Forever Project is using interactive technology to ensure that people will be able to have two-way conversations with 3D images of survivors long after they are no longer here in person. Edek is a short hip hop video which relates the experiences of Janine Webber, a survivor of the Lvov Ghetto.

Earlier this year it launched an app version of its exhibition, “The Journey,” designed for primary-aged children. It tells the story of a Jewish boy, Leo, growing up in Nazi Germany until his parents put him on the Kindertransport.

“I do think the more distant we become from the events of the Holocaust, the harder you have to try to relate it to the audience,” says the NHC&M’s chief executive Marc Cave.

“The creativity that I think absolutely essential is first of all in understanding the audience and knowing what they are feeling, where they are, how to engage them and press their buttons.”

As producer of Edek, he recalls standing in a multicultural classroom in East London where most of the pupils’ parents would have been born outside Europe. What would make them 
care about the Holocaust, he wondered to himself?

“By giving them a hip hop video the likes of which they would be watching in their daily live on YouTube, or now on TikTok or Vevo, you are showing that you understand them — you get their attention,” he said.

“Content like that is not the lesson, it’s the curtain-raiser to engage them, to get them to relate to the issues.”

There are parts of Janine Webber’s story which will resonate with what they will “personally encounter today as the sons and daughters of immigrants,” he said.

His own background in advertising has made him “ruthless in pursuit” of learning what makes people tick, he says. After selling his business, he started Greencave People, a film company, with Malcolm Green, that lookied to work with clients “who wanted to try and do a little bit of good in the world”.

Within the Jewish community, they have done projects for Norwood, UJIA and Jewish Care among others. After being approached to give the NHC&M advice, he became a trustee. And when in late 2019, its chief executive Phil Lyons retired, he took a sabbatical from his business and stepped in initially for a few months — “that sabbatical has become somewhat extended”.

The need for Holocaust education is greater than when the centre opened, he believes, owing to the breakdown of civil discourse in societies across the world. “The uncivil tone of politics, led by America, is vile and that affects everybody’s attitudes and behaviours”. People communicate in “an artificial way”, branding holders of opinions they disagree with as “evil”.

Social media “fuels division and when there’s division and othering, that’s when you start to blame the other, we all know what happens from thereon.”

By contrast, they are deploying “technology in the service of humanity”. The Forever Project was started to address one of the “big worries” of Holocaust education: what would happen when survivors were no longer around to give witness. Even in the few years since it was started, it has developed “almost beyond recognition”.

The centre in Laxton may attract up to 50,000 visitors a year. “We don’t ever want to be the biggest Holocaust museum in the world, but we do want to be the most warm, emotive and uplifting,” he says.

But their digital initiatives give them greater reach. The App uses immersive technology to help children enter the world of pre-War Nazi Berlin and, taking a cue from computer games, sets them educational challenges they have to meet at each stage before they can go on to the next.

Earlier this year, before lockdown struck, it launched another outreach venture, its first touring exhibition, “The Eye As Witness”. Again, through the use of technology, it allow viewers to explore the background to a well-known photograph taken in the Warsaw ghetto.

It reveals the “extent to which the Nazis set that shot up to dehumanise and invoke a sense of disgust for the Jewish victims who were lined up on their knees” and contrasts that with much rarer photos taken by Jews themselves which show “dignity, love and warmth”.

And by investigating the workings of the Nazi propaganda machine, it encourages visitors to think critically about the composition of photographs and films.

While some museums’ idea of online learning is just “a lesson plan in a pdf”, he says educational institutions need to be more sophisticated. As one of the Arts Council’s select National Portfolio organisations, the NHM&C has a remit to be artistic.

Since lockdown, it has been producing online programming which requires its own creative input. “It doesn’t mean that you just stick an educator on a Zoom call for an hour… because Zoom is dull”.

A museum’s digital content should be a complement to, and not a diluted version of, its physical exhibitions. “That, in a nutshell, is the future of museums — it is to be able to have one seamless eco-system of rich, audience-centric experiences that you are engrossed by and therefore learn from.”

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive