Our new museum has been open to schools and to the public for just one week as I write this. In this short time we have seen the positive impact of our new displays, the museum layout and the multimedia technology. The newly-displayed artefacts, sculptures and paintings all combine to create an impressive, powerful learning experience.
There is another, equally powerful learning experience which we have recently initiated. Unlike the new museum with all it has to display, this project requires absolutely nothing other than time and commitment. There are no computers or images, but the effect is just as powerful. This project is the ‘Custodians of Memory’ project.
The pairing of survivors with young people so that survivors can pass their memories on to young people is an idea that has been considered by the Centre in the past. However, we have Henri Korn, from the Child Survivors of the Holocaust group, to thank for reviving this project. Its simplicity and importance were immediately apparent.
‘Custodians of Memory’ involves young students, most of whom are in their first or second year of university, although a few are in Year Twelve. Most are Jewish and many have been on the March of the Living, but there are also non-Jewish student participants. These young people have been paired with survivors, many of whom are guides at our museum. Over the next few weeks or months, or for however long they choose, the students and survivors will meet so that the survivors can share their own life experiences before, during and after the Holocaust, with the young students. They will meet either at home or at the Centre.
There is no assignment to submit for a grade, no exam for which to study and no essay to write. The project simply is a means for the survivor’s memories to be entrusted to a young person. It is up to the young person to preserve the memories and share them with others whenever and however the young person feels it appropriate or necessary.
As the word has spread about this project, we have heard from other young people who are eager to be custodians as well. As a result, we shall shortly be launching ‘round two’ of this project with new students and more survivors.
The computers and multimedia tools in the new museum are vital to transmitting knowledge about the Holocaust to our young students who have grown up in a world of digital technology. However, ‘Custodians of Memory’ reminds us of the power of two human beings speaking face to face, becoming friends and developing the trust to share tragic memories with another so that these memories are never forgotten.
Did you know you can follow the Melbourne Holocaust Museum on its own facebook page?
Here is a recent comment from a student:
“I am a student from Keilor Downs College who promised to write on this wall.
I would like to say thank you for showing us the PowerPoint presentation which gave us insight into the Holocaust. I would also like to say a very big thank you to Mr Jack Fogel for his amazing story about the Holocaust as a survivor. Mr Fogel’s story clearly reached out to my heart, as I am sure it also did to my fellow peers.
I wish we could have stayed longer at the Centre to learn more about the Holocaust, but what I have learnt today about Mr Jack Fogel, the Holocaust itself, and my experience of the Centre will never leave me and I thank all of the people at the Melbourne Holocaust Museum.”
We have thousands of students visit the Centre each year. This year, to support their teachers, a series of professional development seminars for teachers has commenced. These are two-hour sessions held after school hours dealing with a range of Holocaustrelated topics:
• The essentials: what are the very basics facts we need to know in order to teach the Holocaust? How to get started? What are some of the pedagogic issues we must take into account?
• 2000 years in two hours: from ancient anti-Semitism to the Holocaust.
• Germany between the wars: what was the social, economic and political situation in Germany which led to the rise of the Nazis and Hitler?
• Primary school students and the Holocaust: how can we ‘adapt’ the history of the Holocaust to meet younger students’ needs?
• Night, Elli, and other texts for teaching the Holocaust: what are the best themes and approaches to take with our students? What other texts and authors could we consider?
• Hollywood and the Holocaust: which films should we use in teaching the Holocaust? What are the advantages and potential pitfalls?
• The Holocaust and other genocides: what has the world learned from the Holocaust?
• Where was God at Auschwitz?
• What? So what? Now what? How can understanding the Holocaust assist students to understand the importance of human rights and tolerance?
By providing these sessions, led by a variety of Holocaust educators from within and outside of the Centre, we are helping our colleagues in government and private schools develop their knowledge and skills so that the Holocaust is taught as effectively and meaningfully as possible.
A final note: the draft of the national curriculum for history has been made available. I am pleased to see that the Holocaust does, in fact, feature at Year Ten level as follows: Depth Study 1. The Great War and its aftermath; the significance of World War II, including the Holocaust and use of the atomic bomb.
I shall continue to keep you apprised of further developments.