The Scottish Jewish Heritage Centre held a special event for schools on the 23rd January, to mark Holocaust Memorial Day. Thirty-nine pupils plus teachers from six secondary schools from East Renfrewshire, Inverclyde, Edinburgh, Falkirk and Glasgow attended.
The event began with a tour of Garnethill Synagogue and of the displays of the Heritage Centre. Visitors viewed the display ‘Scotland a Sanctuary’, and were able to access the books and Holocaust learning kits as well as view the digitised archival material on iPads within the succah. Harvey Kaplan from the Scottish Jewish Archives Centre was on hand to show pupils some original material from the collection, including Kindertransport travel documents, ID cards, passports and photographs.
The second part of the event was devoted to hearing from three, second-generation speakers. Susan Hodgins talked about her mother Dorrith Sim and her journey from Germany on the Kindertransport as a seven-year-old, then her life with her adoptive parents in Edinburgh. Dorrith later wrote her story as a book for children called In My Pocket; the phrase that she used to help her learn English when she first came to Scotland. Dorrith’s papers are kept in the Archives Centre, and were used as the basis of one of the Learning Kits that is used by primary and secondary school children who come to learn about refugees who came to Scotland just before the Second World War.
Eleanor Livingston told the story of her father Fred Weiss, who left Austria just before the war as a seventeen-year-old supervisor on the Kindertransport. Taken in by the Caplan family, he was able to save up enough money to bring his mother to Scotland before the war began, and went on to become a successful businessman and a member of the Glasgow Jewish community. Sharon Grieve spoke about her mother Edith ‘Eci’ Mackay, originally from Hungary. Eci was selected from Auschwitz, along with her mother, to work as a forced labourer in a munitions factory, and later met Sharon’s father – Scottish soldier John Mackay – while in a displaced persons camp after liberation.
The young people who attended were fantastic and asked thoughtful questions, with their level of engagement being shown in their feedback. Before the event, only 9 out of 34 pupils said they were “quite” or “very” knowledgeable about the experience of Holocaust survivors. After the event, 31 out of 34 pupils said they were “quite” or “very” knowledgeable about the experience of Holocaust survivors.
We asked teachers how they planned to use information from the day in the classroom:
- Share the stories with classes and the school during Holocaust Memorial Day.
- Add to and adapt existing lessons on Holocaust. Produce an assembly for Holocaust Memorial Day.
- Inform teaching and learning. Will look at pupils communicating back to others via school newspaper and assembly presentation.
- The pupils who attended are part of our Holocaust group and will used this information to raise awareness.
- We have been focusing on Dorrith so will use this info for follow up lessons with English, music and modern languages.
This is the first time that the SJHC has run an event like this, bringing together our existing on-site resources with the opportunity to hear from second-generation speakers, to help support schools in their Holocaust Memorial Day commemorations. We are incredibly grateful to the speakers who joined us to share very moving, personal stories, and to the attendees who engaged so well with the event.