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MA in Holocaust Studies Student featured in National Holocaust Memorial Event in London 2016

Today’s blog post is written by our student Hannah Wilson (Cohort II). Wilson’s participation in our ‘Visual Culture and the Holocaust’ course inspired the creation of a special piece that was featured at the National Holocaust Memorial event in London. Through her work with the Holocaust Educational Trust, and her experience from our program, Wilson was selected as one of 12 entries to be featured at this event. Here’s what she has to say about the experience:

As I began my Masters degree in Holocaust Studies at the University of Haifa, I was thrilled to be offered a range of interdisciplinary modules, including ‘Visual Culture and the Holocaust’. As an arts graduate, my work and research has primarily focused around artists who produced work during and after the Holocaust, and how these pieces are represented in institutional settings. The course also introduced me to debates and issues surrounding the future of Holocaust education. Coincidentally, when I returned to the UK from Israel to finish writing up my thesis, I began working in a secondary school as a Learning Support Assistant.

Suitcase project by Hannah Wilson

During this time, I have been lucky enough to be able to arrange several activities that focus on the Holocaust. The students are familiar with the Second World War, the ‘Diary of Anne Frank’ and ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’. However, it was incredibly exciting to work with the Holocaust Educational Trust in order for survivor Eva Clarke to come and speak to the students. I saw them become wide eyed and enthralled as Eva, who was born in Mauthausen concentration camp, recounted the painful struggle of her parents and family members. Some weeks later, an opportunity arose to apply for funding to create an arts project for the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, which would follow the theme of ‘Flames for Humanity’s Heroes’. I wrote a small application on behalf of the school, thinking there would be little chance of hearing back. So, I was delighted to hear that my school had been selected as one of 12 entries in the UK to create a piece to be exhibited at the National Holocaust Memorial event in London on 27th January 2016. Our piece would represent the North East of England.

In response to the theme, I led a group of students at Walker (ranging from ages 11-18), who chose to dedicate this project to the life and bravery of Sir Nicholas Winton, who sadly passed away in 2015 at the age of 105. Having saved 669 Jewish children from Czechoslovakia, our students have created an installation project which seeks to embrace Winton’s kindness, modesty and heroic legacy. Together, we created a suitcase project, influenced by the students’ personal responses to the plight of the evacuated children, and which seeks to represent the experiences and difficulties that they may have faced during the Holocaust. Working with a range of objects, texts and artistic materials, the students were inspired by an organised guest visit from Lady Milena Grenfell Baines, who was one of Sir Nicholas’ saved children. In groups, the students came together to identify the most significant or important items that might have been carried by the children who were forced to leave their homes and loved ones behind. This included a variation of both sentimental and practical items, such photographs, warm clothing, games, letters and books.

Suitcase project by Hannah Wilson

Alongside the individualised suitcases displayed, each with its own identification number, the artwork also features an extract from a beautifully written poem by Milena’s sister Eva, based upon her own experience of being an evacuee, and one of Winton’s saved children. It reads:

A suitcase doesn’t mind the affixation of its numbers
on its way to somewhere unknown,
expecting, always, eager greeting at the carousel,
and luggage labels still exist…
On that brown, tattered label
good lives with evil, past is in present,
a life was saved
declares my battered honourable label.

Eva Fleischmann, Number 639

Amongst the cases, there is a photograph of Sir Nicholas beside a large closed suitcase featuring his name, and a candle which burns bright in his memory. This was our suitcase for Sir Nicholas. The project, upon return from being exhibited in London, was displayed in Newcastle City Library.

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Hannah Wilson

The article was originally published on a blog of Holocaust Studies in Haifa.

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