Historians keep memories alive

24th June 2005 at 01:00
The Holocaust had never been high on my teaching priorities, because Hitler and the Second World War pervade the curriculum. But my attitude changed following an interest shown by my colleague, Helen Morris,on an in-service visit to Auschwitz organised by the Holocaust Educational Trust. We were impressed enough to consider another visit.

We were also invited by the Trust to take part in the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen on April 15. This took the form of an assembly attended by Year 10, whose history students are studying the Holocaust for GCSE. Our students' chaired the assembly and contributed poems, extracts from survivors' accounts and their own reflections. Rudi Oppenheimer, a survivor from the camp and the Chief Rabbi, Dr Jonathan Sacks, gave talks. A liberator of the camp, Fred Smith, also attended. The week before, Rudi Oppenheimer gave an illustrated talk to our history groups.

The assembly was a stirring occasion. Rudi Oppenheimer made links with refugees in Britain today and the importance of political participation.

One student said: "I have started to realise that history will never be a thing of the past."

For history teachers, the experience was doubly powerful. Not only did we hear the testament of participants of a horrific event half a century ago, we were challenged not to be complacent. How can we prevent the recurrence of such events? Only memory can safeguard the future and the transmission of memory from generation to generation is vital. This confirmed the important nature of the role that teachers play in this process.

Bill Yates Head of history and politics, Camden School for Girls, London Borough of Camden

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