Holocaust Memorial Day looks to attract a new audience with digital ceremony

Organisers hope to 'reach people who normally wouldn’t attend an HMD activity'


Shoah educators are seeing an upside to Holocaust Memorial Day in lockdown as digital events could attract a new audience.

Holocaust Memorial Day Trust chief executive Olivia Marks-Woldman said next week’s national ceremony would be staged entirely online, bringing opportunities as well as challenges.

HMDT felt it important to make it an open event this year. Beyond “the guests who we usually invite — the leadership of the country, the face of political and civic leadership” — anyone could join.

“People who won’t be able to attend a local event or whose local organiser is not planning an online activity can still mark Holocaust Memorial Day,” Ms Marks-Woldman noted.

“Of course, we hope we’ll reach people who normally wouldn’t attend an HMD activity but who could now very easily watch and take part in the UK ceremony.”

Gift boxes had been sent to the survivors who would normally attend the ceremony “to let them know we’re thinking of them. And I think they’re delighted to know that the UK ceremony is continuing.”

The pandemic has forced Holocaust educators to increase reliance on digital resources.

“It’s meant we had to really sharpen our focus on the question of what we’re going to do when we can’t take survivors into the classroom,” explained Holocaust Educational Trust chief executive Karen Pollock.

“We miss being in the room to see the impact of learning about the Holocaust and hearing the incredible response from teachers and students alike about the lessons that they’ve learned about racism and antisemitism today.

“But we’re making the best of it and we’ve actually, I think, built up a really good online community.”

HET has been exploring “serious” ways of applying technology and, post-pandemic, expects to complement its in-person work with “effective digital resources”.

Ms Pollock said survivors “are all having different experiences”. But for those used “to travelling the length and breadth of the country who now are shielding at home, often on their own or with minimal support, it’s a huge change.”

She praised survivors such as Ivan Shaw for continuing to share their testimony virtually, describing them as “technological wizards”.

North London-based Mr Shaw, 82, said he was “a bit of a technophobe” and getting to grips with the requirements had been a learning curve.

Although keen to return physical visits, sharing his experiences virtually was a “good second best” and he had received extremely positive feedback from schools.

Born in the former Yugoslavia, his parents were Holocaust victims, having initially been deported to Auschwitz. “I was hidden for the next nine months in a village — luckily I survived.”

Arrested by the Gestapo, he managed to escape while being transported to a camp and an aunt hid him until the end of the war.

Mr Shaw joined another aunt in England in 1947, making the journey at the age of nine.

“I subsequently found out my mother died in Belsen. When the British Army arrived, she was so ill that she died of TB. Two days later, my father ended up in Buchenwald and was so weak when he arrived that he died the following day.”

For a long time, Mr Shaw felt unable to talk about his experiences but he began sharing his testimony through the HET around two years ago.

There were two motivating factors — “firstly, because survivors were dying and secondly, we were living in the era of increased antisemitism and hatred”.

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