In the fascinating TV series, Robert Rinder MBE helped his mother Angela Cohen MBE and fellow British Jewish families trace the stories of their family. With the guidance of historians and experts they sought to understand their family’s experiences in the Holocaust and explore its impact and legacy/cies. The documentary features stories from across Europe, tales of rescue and resistance and of families destroyed by the Holocaust. It takes a deeply personal route through the history, casting a light upon its personal and communal significance, and indeed its national relevance today.
The documentary series provided the foundations for an exciting educational project, conceived and devised by Nicola Wetherall MBE, at Royal Wootton Bassett Academy, that has to date reached 200+ secondary schools, and over 7,200 students. It offers an innovative new approach in Holocaust education, and as a project, led by an alumni Beacon and Quality Mark school, RWBA and its Ascend Learning Trust, the Centre is proud to support its development and success.
#HtFMeUs welcomes schools from both the independent and state sectors, and specialist SEND and alternative provision, the project is diverse and inclusive, embedding a belief that quality provision for, and experience of, Holocaust education is a right for all learners.
‘To see young learners immersed in my families’ story, becoming informed, empathetic, active citizens, is a gift. This project brings the past to our present and can help shape a better future.’
Robert Rinder MBE
Conceived as an immersive, enrichment project – perhaps an after-school club, but also suitable to include within the curriculum – #HtFMeUs supports and guides students to explore one of the stories from the documentary: hearing directly from the families featured and using the documentary, its experts and filmmaking team, archive material and more, to understand the story. Stories – we know – have the power to change the way we think, feel and act. Each story, provides a learning hook, making humanising the history possible. Students begin the project by following either Bernie Graham, Noemie Lopian, Robert and his mother Angela Cohen, or sisters Louisa and Natalie Clein’s journey. In doing so they deepen their knowledge of the Holocaust and its history and develop critical thinking skills. They are then invited to reflect upon the meaning of these events for them as individuals.
‘As is commonly known, through the brutal murder of 6 million Jews, the Holocaust too often demonstrated the worst aspects of human behaviour. Nevertheless, it is as important for all of us to understand that the Holocaust also illuminated some remarkable and positive human stories – ones which demonstrated resilience, courage, compassion, and hope. The incredible success of the “The Holocaust, Their Family, Me and Us” project is that it uses compelling and accessible stories of individuals and families as vehicles to deepen young people’s knowledge, understanding and engagement with this traumatic history. Drawing on the remarkable personal narratives of the families of Bernie, Noemie, Robert, Angela, Louisa and Natalie, the project compels young people to be more reflective, empathetic, engaged, and knowledgeable. It is an outstanding example of Holocaust education of the highest quality, and all of us at the UCL Centre for Holocaust Education are proud to be collaborators and partners in this extraordinary educational enterprise.’ Professor Stuart Foster, UCL Centre for Holocaust Education
What is the project and what has it meant to the families, the filmmakers and experts?
Participating schools bring together these threads in a reflection on how the story informs the school community, its diversity, ethos, and values. Beyond the workbook resources and challenges, project outcomes are varied: including cross-curricular opportunities in History, RE, Art, social science, MFL, Music, Drama and more. Taking up the project students learn about ‘the Holocaust’, explore one family story (their family), reflect on what it means to them (me) and as a school community (us). Presented with often little known and often under-taught, aspects of the Holocaust (e.g., the Einsatzgruppen ‘Holocaust by Bullets’, hidden children, resistance and the role of women, life under Vichy, occupation and more) students are able to identify and challenge prevailing misconceptions about what it means to be Jewish in Britain today and go beyond common ‘Auschwitz-centric’ narratives. Students are supported to discover the complexity and evolution of the camp system, to realise the importance of place, space, identity, culture and belonging – and to make meaning and draw personal conclusions.
Knowing what happened in the Holocaust, learning about it, means nothing if we are complacent. We know the warning signs. We know where appeasement, being a bystander, or ‘them and us’ thinking leads – this project is research-informed, its pedagogical approach and content is aligned to IHRA guidance and best practice and it encourages all participants, schools and communities to reflect upon and apply their deep learning.
In an era where survivor visits are increasingly difficult for schools to arrange and where we are closing in on a point in time in which Holocaust survivors will all have passed away, this project demonstrates an alternative approach for students. It asks them to follow a Holocaust story closely and develop a deep understanding of the history, making use of archive material, documentary evidence and the reflections of second- and third-generation descendants of Holocaust victims and survivors. In so doing, it humanises the history. Additionally, the project gives young people an opportunity to reflect on the legacies of the Holocaust and their significance in the modern world, and to develop a sense of themselves as global citizens in the context of this history.
What has the project meant to participating students and teachers? Find out the #ReasonsWhy you, your school and students should get involved:
The project is very suited to schools wishing to develop their students’ cultural capital and build a strong culture of valuing diversity and British Values. It is valuable in ensuring a broad and balanced curricular offer in PSHE or Citizenship lessons. It supports SMSC, personal development, student voice, leadership, and teamwork. It also addresses themes related to prejudice, discrimination, safeguarding, antisemitism, DEI, emotional and media literacy, e-safety and serves to combat prevailing myths and misconceptions. In era of fake news and conspiracy theories, it helps combat distortion and denial, and challenges hatred. It empowers young people to safeguard the future by learning from the past. It provides an innovative vehicle to support existing Holocaust provision across the curriculum and offers the opportunity to embed within the school a culture of respect, empathy, and inclusion. For all these reasons it also has huge potential in helping schools develop a powerful approach to Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration.
‘We were inspired by the personal stories of the families and the opportunities for reflection that this afforded; but could not have dreamt of the level of curiosity, vast array of responses, ideas and creativity that our students have exhibited throughout the project.’
Matt Jones, Woking High School
The project provides co-ordinating teachers the foundational resources, materials and support they need to embark on the project. With input from experts at the UCL Centre for Holocaust Education and the 45 Aid Society, facilitated over Zoom, and direct communication with those whose families featured in the documentary (Bernie, Noemie, Robert, Angela, Louisa and Natalie), student groups get to take a learning and reflective ‘journey’. In addition, some school visits and special events occur across the evolving project; indeed the Centre works to support schools with workshop opportunities including a visit to University College London campus to experience a series of workshops delivered by Centre experts, with Robert and Angela visiting as a ‘surprise’, ensuring a first-hand connection with the stories studied was forged, along with working directly with experts in the field of Holocaust education at one of Britain’s leading universities! Schools and learners continue to benefit from varied experiences as part of project.
* Please note, this Royal Wootton Bassett Academy (Ascend Learning Trust) project would not be possible without the express support of the families featured in the documentaries, the generosity and permission of BBC/Wall to Wall Media, the filmmakers, experts featured in the programmes, and the support of the UCL Centre for Holocaust Education, the 45 Aid Society and partnership with the Pears Foundation.
‘Being involved in this extraordinary project has given our students the opportunity to showcase that “everything really is possible” and proved once again the importance of not putting limits on what we believe people can achieve based on a diagnosis. #noglassceilings’
Laura Morgan, Venturers’ Academy (Autism Special Provision)