Exposing 10-year-olds to terror

26th September 2008 at 01:00
A new exhibition gives primary pupils a gentle introduction to the Holocaust

When Leo Stein was at primary school, his teacher forced him to come to the front of the class so she could point out his Jewish features to the rest of the pupils.

Leo is the fictional hero of an exhibition that opened this month at the Holocaust Centre in Nottinghamshire. He has been created to explain the Holocaust - in which 1.5 million children were murdered - to primary pupils.

The Journey is Britain's first Holocaust exhibition aimed specifically at primary pupils. The subject matter, encompassing racial hatred, concentration camps and attempted genocide, is not one that would appear a natural topic for the primary classroom. But Vanessa Hopkinson, head of primary education at the centre, believes this is no reason to shy away from it.

"You wouldn't show skeletal images or pictures of piles of corpses to them," she said. "It's not necessary at that age.

"But a 10-year-old can cause a lot of misery to another child, or can make their day by asking them to play. A 10-year-old can make a difference."

The exhibition presents different elements of Nazi Germany through Leo Stein's eyes. It begins in Leo's living room, with toys piled in a corner and the smell of chicken soup wafting through.

"Because the numbers in the Holocaust are incomprehensible, children don't relate to them," said Ms Hopkinson. "So it's about giving them situations similar to their own. They can handle toys, smell the chicken soup. They really feel they're going back in time."

From there, the exhibition moves into a mocked-up 1930s schoolroom, where visitors see the photograph of Hitler that pupils would salute each morning.

They are then taken past a Jewish bakery, destroyed during Kristallnacht, into Leo's father's tailor shop. There, they see the small, dimly lit space under the stairs where the family hid from soldiers.

At the end of the exhibition, pupils are given a chance to talk with a real Holocaust survivor.

"The children learn that not all journeys ended happily," said Ms Hopkinson. "You can get over how awful it was without going into detail. The survivors talk about being separated from their family, being hungry, being cold, being scared."

Sarah Monahan, a Year 6 teacher at Holt Primary in Lincoln, is taking her pupils to the exhibition.

"I want them to know what's happened, to see the impact on people's lives," she said. "And I want them to learn from what's left, learn from mistakes."

And Ms Hopkinson hopes that these lessons will stay with them. "We want them to consider the consequences of their own choices," she said. "Then, if they see something they think is wrong, they will not be bystanders."

www.holocaustcentre.net

Educational visits, magazine, pages 25-33.

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