My friend, not my enemy

Jane Cocker

Talking to Holocaust survivors has helped pupils connect with the plight of present day refugees. Jane Cocker reports how.

Personal contact with Holocaust survivors is encouraging young pupils in the Midlands to link events from the past to contemporary issues and their own feelings about discrimination and injustice.

Meeting and working with Holocaust survivors Ibi and Waldemar Ginsburg allows them to connect with the past in a personal way and to understand how human beings have the potential to discriminate against others.

Thinking about what Ibi and Wal endured more than 60 years ago helps Year 6 children reflect on their own beliefs, values and attitudes and has provided stimulus for cross-curricular citizenship activities.

Ibi, cheerful and compassionate, could be anyone's favourite grandmother. She says that cruel behaviour is not always "carried out by invading monsters, but more often than not by ordinary people". She recalls the behaviour of one of her Hungarian neighbours who joined the mocking of Jewish people as they were driven from their homes. "He was my neighbour, a friend," she says.

The pupils discuss Ibi's story and ask questions. She tells them that people do not have to give up their own ideals, but that it is important to respect the beliefs, values and rights of others.

The children think about the rights they believe people should have today and rank them in order of importance in a list on cards. If some rights were taken away, how would living a normal life become more difficult?

Some choose to use Ibi's story and others think about the plight of present day refugees. They remove a card each time a human right is lost. In both cases there are soon very few cards left.

Pupils talk about Ibi's view that the actions of ordinary people play a part in discrimination. They think about their own community and how they could make a difference.

Finally they write Cinquain poems based on the theme for Holocaust Memorial Day 2008, Imagine ... remember, reflect, react, which helps them to bring together their knowledge about the past, their present actions and their hopes for the future:

Line One: Write "Imagine"

Line Two: Write 2 words to describe imagine (think, wish)

Line Three: Write 3 words about remember (what, how?)

Line Four: Write 2 words about reflection (what people should think about in today's society)

Line Five: Write one word to explain how you will react to make a difference in your own community


Think, explore

Unfairness, soldiers, shouting

Being kinder


The poems are strung together on a large ribbon making a chain of hope.

Thus history, citizenship and the creative arts play their part in encouraging and developing pupils' understanding of the human potential to discriminate or act fairly.

Jane Cocker, a teacher from Sir Thomas Boughey High School in Stoke on Trent, worked with primary pupils and Ibi and Wal Ginsburg, through New Vic Borderlines, a local theatre group. The children's poems will be displayed at a special event to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day this month.



The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust website has an education section that provides lesson plans, ideas for collective worship, discussion questions and book club activities for primary, secondary and post-16 students based on the HMD08 theme Imagine ... remember, reflect, react.


Refugee Boy by Benjamin Zephaniah (Bloomsbury) pound;5.99 tells pupils of the plight of a modern day refugee trying to rebuild his life in Britain.


Anne Frank House DVD

Provides a virtual tour of the Anne Frank House and useful timelines about the Holocaust. Visit

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Jane Cocker

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