Schools ‘shamefully’ boycotting Holocaust education over Gaza

Voices of the Holocaust, which takes plays preserving the memories and stories of Shoah survivors into schools, is getting ‘radio silence’


A scene from 'Kindness: A Legacy of the Holocaust'

Schools are snubbing a theatre company that educates children on the Holocaust “because of the current climate”, its director has said.

In a situation that has been described by educators as “shameful”, the JC also understands that parents have been bombarding schools with angry messages saying they would not let their children attend the company’s Shoah events.

The director of education theatre company and charity Voices of the Holocaust, which takes plays preserving the memories and stories of Shoah survivors into schools, told the JC that it is getting “radio silence”.

Cate Hollis, who also co-wrote the company’s latest play, Kindness: A Legacy of the Holocaust, said Voices has made “hundreds” of emails and calls but has had “nil response”.

She said that in the company’s first year since its return after Covid, it engaged 60 to 70 schools, mostly without funding, and this year it has engaged a “small portion of that”.

Hollis said: “It’s radio silence that we are feeling. It feels very obvious to us that schools are turning away. I know we are not alone in this. It’s deeply upsetting for the future of Holocaust education if what we are feeling and experiencing is a representation of mainstream senior leadership attitudes to Holocaust education.”

Kindness is based on the testimony of Hungarian survivor Susan Pollack OBE, who was aged 13 when she was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau in the summer of 1944.

The play was cancelled last autumn in the charity’s home town of Milton Keynes and in another location.

One school was bombarded with emails from parents over a Holocaust Memorial focused event involving the group in February. Some parents even withdrew their students from school in protest. Some messages were titled “where are the Voices of the Palestinian holocaust?”.

“In this case, the school was incredibly supportive, sought our advice on responding and we had an incredibly meaningful day with the young people we engaged, both through the play and educational programmes,” Hollis said.

“It was incredibly upsetting and frustrating for the whole team. The school were willing to share some of the emails that had come in; almost every antisemitic trope was present and was deeply disturbing to read, writ large in black and white.”

The company said some schools that it has previously visited are now refusing to rebook. In one case the school stated that it would not have Voices back this year “because of the current climate”.

Hollis added: “To now feel that the work of Voices, who carry Susan's legacy on her behalf through Kindness and its education programmes, is now in jeopardy and that teaching and learning about the Holocaust is perceived by some educators and parents as ‘political’ is alarming.”

Alex Maws, head of education and heritage at the Association of Jewish Refugees (AJR), called the decision taken by many schools “shameful”. 

“AJR is proud to count Voices of the Holocaust as one of the dozens of innovative Holocaust educational programmes that it funds. It is shameful that some schools have taken the decision not to allow their students to experience Voices’ original play Kindness, which introduces Holocaust survivor Susan Pollack’s testimony to thousands of young people each year.

"The current upsurge in antisemitism demonstrates that now more than ever it is imperative for us all to remember the consequences of antisemitism taken to its extreme.”

As a result of the Israel-Gaza war dominating the news, the words “Gaza”, “Israel” and “Palestine” were among those most used by children in the BBC’s 500 Words short story competition last year.

The analysis of almost 44,000 entries by Oxford University Press (OUP) revealed that stories themed on conflict were more prominent than in previous years – showing the impact on children aged five to 11.

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