A Belsen survivor's story is a poignant and powerful reminder of why pupils should study the past and how it relates to their future, says Chris Higgins.Nothing brings history alive more vividly than eye-witnesses. Now, with the support from the Holocaust Educational Trust, we have benefited from visits by Jewish survivors of the Holocaust for the past two years, as part of special all-day events commemorating those who lost their lives, and study the issues surrounding that most horrifying period of modern history.
Hosting an event like a Holocaust memorial day requires careful planning to ensure that pupils not only undertake meaningful and challenging activities, but that they are prepared for some of the difficult and upsetting subject material.
We run our day with Year 9s, involving staff from a range of departments and a mix of classroom activities and presentation to help understanding progress.
Tom Jackson, a special adviser to the Holocaust Educational Trust, starts by putting the pupils in the shoes of the Jewish children. He examines the impact on individual lives, specific families, parents, relatives and their children.
Another activity, using an Imperial War Museum pack, has pupils labelling photos of Germans as survivor, victim or perpetrator - and then discovering the truth. They are frequently wrong, as in the case of Nazi Joseph Goebbels and his family.
The pivotal event of the day is the talk from a survivor, which grips pupils for 90 minutes or more. The trust first put us in touch with Rudi Oppenheimer, a Belsen survivor. His sister had a British passport so the children were spared the gas chamber, but other family members did not escape.
One of the most powerful aspects of Rudi's story came when he was showing us a map of the Jewish quarter of Amsterdam where his family lived. He pointed out the square where he played with his friends. Nearby was the house where a little girl also lived and whose story was to become the most famous of all - Anne Frank. When Rudi said this, the hall went silent. In an instant, the children were put in direct contact with an enormously important moment in history and with one of its direct survivors.
The final activity is remembering: getting pupils to think about creating a modern day memorial that will keep alive the experiences of survivors and the tragedy of the Holocaust for future generations. Designs are then put up, and voted on by the pupils
Chris Higgins is teacher and deputy director of learning at Invicta Grammar School in Maidstone, Kent.
Holocaust Memorial Day is on January 27.
The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust website is at www.hmd.org.uk
Imperial War Museum
Holocaust Educational Trust: www.het.org.uk