Remembering, Listening, Learning:Is there anything that can be learned from the Holocaust?
A U3A Day at the National Holocaust Centre, Joint Learning Project.
It all began in January 2016, when an email from Louise Stafford of the National Holocaust Centre was forwarded by our Network Contact to all the U3A representatives in the Notts. Network of U3As.
We are very lucky to have the National Holocaust Centre close to us in rural Nottinghamshire.
The reason it is there is a story in itself but many of us have visited over the years and it is the most special place.
Louise Stafford, Lead for Adult Education at the Centre, had been talking to a volunteer at the Centre, a U3A member, who had suggested the idea of a special day for U3A members. So, Louise wrote the email and I jumped at the opportunity as, in this day and age, it seems to me that there is so much to learn from history and the opportunity to explore ideas and thoughts with fellow U3A members would have great benefit. I decided to raise the idea at our January Nottinghamshire Network meeting and there was considerable interest. Each representative agreed to advertise the day to their own U3A members.
At this stage we were looking for a small number of U3A members from a variety of U3As to come together, with Louise Stafford, to plan a shared learning day for U3A members from across Nottinghamshire. In the end sixteen members expressed interest in being part of the planning team which, once dates had been finalised, reduced to five.
Eventually, in May, the five of us met Louise at the Holocaust Centre for the day. This planning day was arranged to enable us to consider the structure and content of the final day, and share our views and ideas. It incorporated viewing the exhibitions and gardens, and then working together to plan the finalised format for the day. We were all keen to make sure there was time for workshops on particular themes raised through study of the Holocaust, in what was becoming apparent was to be a tightly-packed programme.
Having planned the day, the next step was to advertise it and, once again, we used our Notts. Network representatives to promote it and our Network Contact emailed everyone more than once to garner interest.
The day was planned for October 5th and U3As were encouraged to make group bookings for their members. The eventual number who signed up for the day was 70 and they came from U3As across the county. For example, 22 members came from Arnold U3A, my own, and everyone found the day to be exceptional. The cost was £20 each which we all felt was tremendous value for money and included: glossy literature, pencils and paper in folders, sweets and bottles of water, the services of the educators, teas, coffees and biscuits, bookmark and gift souvenir, art materials (canvasses and paints), photocopied colour posters and materials for the Contemporary workshops, annual tickets for return to the Centre during the year, even lunch! That’s on top of the experience itself!
One of the attendees, Kay Toy, commented:
“On Wednesday 5th October, eight members of Forest Town U3A, along with a large contingent from other U3As in the area, visited the National Holocaust Centre near Ollerton. This proved to be a moving, interesting and rewarding experience. On arrival, we walked through commemorative gardens (both peaceful and thought-provoking) as we approached the main buildings. After a fascinating introductory talk, where we were advised that the role of the museum was that of Learning from the Holocaust, we were given a guided tour of the museum; its haunting photographs, artefacts and reconstructions gave one the feeling of immediacy; and sadness for the enormity of what took place.
“We then proceeded to a workshop to discuss "Challenges for Today" (topics studied by other groups were "Faith and the Holocaust" and "Art and the Holocaust"). We looked at the role of the media, specifically the press and how, with its use of language, it can influence perceptions and attitudes, with particular reference to this year's referendum debate about immigration. Thought-provoking!
After an excellent buffet lunch, we were given a talk by a Holocaust survivor, Dr Martin Stern. He spoke about his remarkable life and experiences in a measured and restrained manner, and without apparent bitterness. If ever there was testimony to the power of the human spirit and a life well lived, it was demonstrated to us that afternoon. His intelligence and powers of perception shone through as he spoke to us about the psychology behind the Holocaust, and genocide across the world since the Second World War (the prevalence of which is astounding). May his courage and tenacity be an example to us all.
Our visit ended with a ceremony to remember the children murdered by the Nazis: visitors were invited to place a stone on the commemorative cairn in the gardens and pause for reflection. A haunting and memorable day for us all.”
Jan Dean, Arnold U3A, who opted to join the Art Workshop, said:
“After the introductory talk, visit around the exhibitions and a break for lunch, our group were taken into the garden to look at the Terezin Sycamore Tree. The original tree had been planted as a sapling in 1942 in a ghetto and was cherished by children living at the time. As groups of children were deported to Auschwitz, others took over looking after the sapling. After liberation, the tree was planted in front of the camp as a memorial.
We were asked to use this 'tree of life' as inspiration for a picture to be painted on canvas using acrylic paints. Quite a daunting task to achieve in 20 minutes! However, everyone quickly became absorbed in what they were trying to achieve in the short space of time. It proved to be therapeutic as whilst we worked with different colours on white canvas we chatted about a range of topics.
A thought provoking day!
Sylvia Hale, Arnold U3A, at the Faith and the Holocaust workshop wrote:
“Although we discussed all aspects of the evil that mankind had displayed during the Second World War, in particular the extermination of the Jews… We agreed that evil of this nature didn’t mean that there was no God, but man chose - with his free will - to perform these acts of depravity.”
We are so pleased that this Shared Learning Project was such a success. Everyone valued it and learnt a great deal.
What next? Many of the members who attended the day have suggested they would like to use their tickets to make a return trip to view the exhibition more fully. At Arnold, we will probably organise another visit later in the year.
‘Louise Stafford, and the educators at the Centre, felt that it had been a privilege to be a part of the excellent learning and superb discussions, which had taken place. It was gratefully acknowledged that the fantastic engagement of all who attended was a reflection of the support and knowledge of the U3A planning group - who had guided the development of the thought-provoking and varied programme for the day.’