Assembly point - Lest we forget

9th January 2009 at 00:00
Taking pupils back to 1942 Poland to act out what may have happened on their way to a concentration camp guarantees an emotive assembly

As Holocaust Memorial Day nears, I can't claim to have thought of this idea for an assembly, but I did lead it while an Ofsted inspector wept quietly and said later that it was the most moving assembly she'd ever seen. If you are going to give it a go, you will need a strong personality, the ability to create a vivid word picture, and the co- operation of your colleagues in creating and maintaining an atmosphere. If you get it right, the children will never forget it and you will have helped them to empathise with the fate of those caught up in the Holocaust.

First, set your scene. You want a dark environment; the normal world must be left outside. If you have a tape of barking dogs and muffled, indistinct voices shouting in the distance, that would add atmosphere.

Have some benches set apart at the front - enough to seat, say 10 per cent of the group. As the pupils file in, have colleagues armed with sticky dots give out about 20 of them without any explanation. Prime them to give some to pupils who play instruments or sing, or who are good at sport - but give some also to pupils who are not in any way distinguished. The randomness can be helpful. Ask your colleagues to usher pupils to their places, making sure that those with the sticky dots all sit on the separate benches at the front.

Begin to speak to them, explaining that you are no longer in your town in the present time. Instead you are in a street in Krakow, Poland, in May 1942. It is early in the morning, perhaps 2 or 3am. You are woken from sleep to hear voices and barking dogs further down the street. Your parents tell you to get up, gather a few clothes and to go with them out into the street. You see other friends also in the street, dazed and confused. Some are crying; their elderly grandparents, bedridden, have been left behind. You have to leave your dog. Your friend Jacob who lives next door is red-eyed; his crippled little sister is crying from upstairs. The men in uniform with guns and fierce dogs won't let her go with you.

You need to continue painting your word picture to include details of the journey by cattle truck to an unknown destination. There are no sanitary facilities. Eventually, you soil yourselves and feel ashamed. The women try to give older ones a little privacy by standing around them. When you arrive, you are separated, men from women, husband from wife, parent from child. You are told that you are going to work. You may be forced to strip in front of all the others. Some are told they are going to shower. You never see them again. The pupils with the sticky dots are the ones who survive. Some are chosen to be servants, some because they play music and some just because. They are the ones who live to tell the tale.

Obviously, you add as much detail as you can to make your word picture effective and to enable your pupils to imagine this happening to them. It's a difficult line to tread, but in my experience the most unlikely pupils respond to this empathetic approach. Conclude by sharing a few statistics about the number of Jews who died in the Holocaust, the number saved, then tell them this is why we have Holocaust Memorial Day.

Gail Gregory teaches English at Sneyd Community School in Bloxhall, Walsall.

KEEP THEM THINKING

Holocaust Memorial Day is January 27. For more information and resources, the Anne Frank Trust has built a new resource site to complement BBC drama The Diary of Anne Frank, which was screened this week. For more information, visit www.annefrank.org.uk.

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