INTERVIEW: Teaching the lessons of the Holocaust
Kay Andrews is head of education at the Holocaust Educational Trust.
Established in 1988, the Trust educates young people about the Holocaust and the important lessons to be learned for today.
The Trust works in schools, universities and in the community to raise awareness and understanding of the Holocaust.
It started taking groups of 16 and 17-year-old sixth form pupils to Auschwitz in 1999. Ms Andrews spoke to PinkNews.co.uk after a recent trip with a group from the Birmingham area.
PinkNews.co.uk: Why do you only take sixth form students?
Kay Andrews: Personally and professionally I feel they need to be in these last few years of school, to have emotional maturity to understand what they are seeing, and to also do some follow up work.
We can’t take every sixth former in the country. What we can do is take two students from every sixth form, by doing that they become ambassadors of their school and can pass on the message.
We ask the students to pay £99 each to participate. We feel that is important they invest a certain amount of money into it.
However if there is a point where a student couldn’t afford to pay or the school couldn’t pay then we will fund the student to come with us.
Apart from the government, where does your funding come from?
We are a charity so it’s really by donations, we have a fundraising person who fills in grant applications and it’s like any other charity, people donate etc. We have an appeal each year.
A lot of gay people perceive a sense of hierarchy when we talk about the victims of the Holocaust.
I think it’s a historical debate that people better and greater than myself have entered into.
The scholastic finding of the Holocaust has a clear definition of those marked out for murders and the genocide of the Jews.
There were murders of innocent people and other people suffered extreme persecution, and in all cases the important thing to respect is the fact that all of those individuals suffered for whatever reason.
There should be no comparison of pain that ‘that person was worse than that person,’ that’s what we need to remember.
Research into all Holocaust issues has been developing, like any form of historical research.
In the past five to ten years new documents have come out of the archives, which has certainly changed and developed the view of what happened at certain times, and the way that we teach about the Holocaust now has developed substantially over the last ten years.
How do you prepare the students – what work do you do before and after the trip?
Our preparation time is very short as they are all sixth form students and we can’t take them out of school for very long.
Before the trip we do a four hour seminar with them, they hear the testimony of a Holocaust survivor.
We also reflect about pre-war Jewish life and what was there beforehand.
Then we spend the rest of the time putting them into groups, and getting them to sit down and to think about what the reasons, what the issues are, when they visit the genocide sites.
In the follow up sessions we sit down and discuss what struck them, what was difficult to deal with, did it meet their expectations, what was different, how does that challenge them.
Also in the follow up seminar we encourage them to think about what they are going to do with their follow up activities and get them to come out with concrete clear ideas that they would take to school.
You need to have a good week to sleep on it, to physically recover from it, and then to start processing it.
Some people become quite upset.
We are not in the business of trying to wind people up and for them to react in a highly charged emotional way, the whole subject of this trip is emotional anyway.
Are you concerned that Auschwitz might end up becoming just a tourist attraction?
I think it is a tourist attraction, full stop. What concerns me is there were six death camps in Poland and Auschwitz/Birkenau is one of them.
The reason that a lot of people visit there is that because there are still the original buildings that you can physically see, but I would like them to also take out time to visit the less known sites, we should also be looking at the other sites in Poland as well.
PHOTOS BY YAKIR ZUR
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In November 2007, the Holocaust Educational Trust was awarded a BAFTA for its educational DVD-ROM Recollections: Eyewitnesses Remember the Holocaust, produced in conjunction with the USC Shoah Foundation Institute.
The groundbreaking interactive resource integrates testimony from 18 eyewitnesses to the Holocaust, including Jewish survivors, Roma and Sinti survivors, Jehovah’s Witness survivors and political prisoners as well as testimony from survivors of the eugenics programme.
For more information click here.