The Holocaust Educational Trust & Me

On April 18, 2014 by

Lessons From Auschwitz Project, 2011

In March 2011, I travelled with the Holocaust Educational Trust, accompanied by a classmate and close friend, to Auschwitz. First we travelled to the Jewish cemetery in Oswiecim where we took in the remains of the battered headstones of the dead that had been destroyed by the Nazis. Then, we travelled to Auschwitz I, where the famous lettering of ‘Work Sets You Free’ obstructs a site that hosted many of Josef Mengele’s horrific experiments, where the SS commanding officer brought up his child just feet away from the gas chambers and where kilos and kilos of human hair are preserved for us to see. Lastly, we travelled to Auschwitz-Birkenau; a site so vast and widespread you simply cannot explain the silence that seeps from its every inch. As the rubble of the gas chambers lies untouched, the iconic railway track thrusts deep into the camp and you climb the watchtower that allows you to overlook the barracks that housed the millions of victims that perished, you find yourself unable to comprehend how such an atrocity was possible.

Looking back at this visit, what I saw there and the way I was taught about what happened in this vast and eerie destination, completely altered my outlook upon politics, human rights and history. It made me feel as though I was a part of its story and awoke in me a need to tell it, and re-tell it until I could no longer do so.


LFA Follow-Up Project

When in Auschwitz I had taken many photos and on my return, I had written a poem about my experiences, what I had seen and what I had learned. The poem is called ‘Resilience’ because within the place that holds such harrowing history, the thing that shone was the ongoing resilience of the victims.

Within the gas chamber of Auschwitz I, there was a star of David etched deep into the wall.

In the ground beside the rubble of the gas chamber at Birkenau they discovered a diary. A diary that inside held the words of a man forced to work as art of the sonderkpmmano, clearing out the bodies from the chambers. His faith in the future truly touched me, he wrote:

‘We have done all we could. You, who have lived to see justice & liberty, what will you do’.

The growth of the beautiful silver birch trees that still grow within the ground at Birkenau which means ‘silver birch’.

Resilience was found within every crevice that suffering existed alongside. You can hear the poem here:

House of Commons, Lord Merlyn-Rees Memorial Lecture, Jan 2012

Screen Shot 2014-05-18 at 11.08.08In January 2012, I received an email from the Holocaust Educational Trust, telling me that they had watched a short video I had made and wanted me to speak about it, as well as my experience of the Lessons From Auschwitz Project at the House of Commons. I of course agreed.

I prepared my speech, dressed in my smartest clothes and jumped on the tube. The relevance of the event only really made sense once I arrived at the venue. I cannot tell you how moving it was to see so many holocaust survivors gathered together to hear people like me, speak to them. The room was filled with journalists, HET ambassadors, MPs and members of the public. As I looked around to see so many people gathered in memorial of all those who perished and almost just as importantly, to remember that we must continue to tell the stories of the atrocities, I truly felt a responsibility to speak out.

After the event I spoke to the survivors who before giving me a chance to say how honoured I was to meet them, had already thanked me for speaking and congratulated me on doing so well. It was so humbling to speak to all those survivors who are dedicated to telling their stories and it gave me a room full of faces to remember, every time I thought about the holocaust, or about speaking of its relevance today.


The Lord Merlyn-Rees Memorial Lecture, Jan 2013

980318_10151491988492426_2130225869_oIn Jan 2013, I returned to Portcullis House, this time to sit in the audience and join the survivors and MPs in memorial. The evening hosts a variety of speakers. Hosted by Martha Kearney, we usually hear from an expert in the field of holocaust history. This year we heard from Daniel Finkelstein and David Miliband, who both have a personal family connection with the holocaust.

I was lucky enough to be seated next to Michael Gove, just the man I had hoped to talk to about appearing in my documentary. When it came to the Q&A I posed a question to the panel in the hope that someone would pass the microphone to the man sitting next to me. Luckily, Mr Miliband did just that. My question to them was about how important it was for ambassadors not only to exist among young people, but how important it was for them to stand as advocated of holocaust education also. How important was it, that the holocaust is used as an example both in education for our young people and within their roles as MPs.

Although Mr. Gove was unable to appear in my documentary to speak about exactly that, due to a pressing schedule – I found an alternative. Home Secretary Theresa May managed to squeeze me in to her monthly constituent meetings which I was extremely grateful for!

The evening was lovely as I got to reacquaint myself with some of the survivors I had met the previous year. Some even remembered me which I thought was really nice. I began to speak to them about my documentary and was met with such a supportive atmosphere that I left the building beaming. I also left with a feeling that I had to expand my thinking in terms of how I approached the subject. I couldn’t just talk about it as a thing of the past, as survivor Ruth Barnett furthered, it is still happening. It is among Roma and around the world. Looking back I know that I owe Ruth a lot in th way that she shaped the final outcome of the documentary. Thank you Ruth!


Ambassador Study Visit, Yad Vashem, Israel, August 2013

944576_10151596582497426_539041707_nIn August 2013, myself and 18 other ambassadors who have really committed to their role on returning from The LFA Project, flew out to Jerusalem together for a study visit to Yad Vashem. Yad Vashem is a leading holocaust research facility and museum. It was a week filled with eye-opening excursions to Masada, the old city of Jerusalem and the Dead Sea as well as an intense study course with lessons from historical examples of anti-semitism to the understanding of complex Juadaic denominations.

“During the Israel seminar, participants had the opportunity to hear lectures led by some of the world’s leading Holocaust academics including Yehuda Bauer, who spoke about the Holocaust in relation to other genocides, and Efraim Zuroff, Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem, who spoke about efforts to bring Nazi war criminals to justice. Other lectures focused on Jewish life before the War; the establishment of the Ghettoes; Jewish resistance; and Nazi ideological beliefs”. (HET website)

We heard an extremely touching testimony from Esther Schlesinger and a rather action packed description of Nazi hunting from Dr Efraim Zuroff and a collection of really useful lessons from our great teacher Iftak. We also had the chance to visit the various memorials around the grounds of Yad Vashem. Particularly moving was the Children’s Memorial. A room of mirrors, entirely in darkness apart form the reflection of what seems like hundreds of candles as the names of all of the child victims of the holocaust are read out one by one. We even got to celebrate Shabbat at our guide Jeremy’s local synagogue and then he was kind enough to allow all of us into his home to share a shabbat meal with him. All 22 of us!

It was a week not only full of amazing stories, learning experiences and eye-opening scenes, it was a week that allowed me to meet some truly brilliant ambassadors who are all committed, as I am, to ensuring that the remembrance of the holocaust continues for years to come. I am so happy to have met them all!


The Ambassadors at Tel Aviv Beach

For updates on the Ambassador community, read fellow Regional Ambassador Imogen Dalziel’s blog. It’s full of some extremely inspiring posts as well as demonstrating an absolute passion and commitment for holocaust education. Imogen is definitely among the most dedicated and passionate Ambassadors I know.

Also, Another ambassador Orianne Brown sums up the trip beautifully in thei article for the Derby Telegraph:


Lessons From Auschwitz Follow-Up Seminar, Dec 2013

In December 2013, I travelled to Canary Wharf to speak to approximately 200 students on their return from Auschwitz Birkenau about what they should do next.

My speech was based around my experiences as an ambassador and I wanted to tell them to work towards their talents. On return from LFA, you are asked as an ambassador to complete a follow-up project. This could be an assembly, a memorial, a mixed discipline day at school centred around holocaust memorial day, an art project, poetry readings…absolutely anything.

The students were really fired up when we broke up into small groups to speak about some ideas for their projects and it was really inspiring to hear that the impact the visit with LFA had had on me, was not a singular example. The students reignited my passion also, which has since seen me submit my documentary to festivals in the hope that more people will view it. After all, that began as my only aim. The survivors just wish people to know their story. To Susan, Freddie and Zigi, I told them that I would show as many people as I could.

The students at the seminar were clearly as moved as I was by what they had seen and heard on the LFA Project and I couldn’t wait to hear about the projects they went on to produce.


City Hall Memorial Event, Holocaust Memorial Day, Jan 2014


In January 2014, I was invited along with some of the ambassadors I had spoken to a few months before, to speak in front of an audience of London Borough MPs that was being streamed live on the City hall webcast.

It is always a little mind-blowing to see so many survivors and politicians sitting side by side in remembrance. I was also really touched to hear that the speech I had made previously, to the young people at the follow-up seminar, had inspired them to continue their work with holocaust remembrance and education. I have to say, they were better at speaking to that rather daunting crowd, than me!

We heard a testimony from survivor Steven Frank but also had the privilege to hear also, from Rwandan genocide survivor, Sophie Masareka. She spoke extremely bravely about her experiences and her testimony truly touched me. Mayor Boris Johnson stepped up to speak about the resonance that holocaust education has across London.

“Holocaust Memorial Day is an opportunity for people of all ages and from all communities to remember the millions of people who lost their lives and the resilience of the survivors, many of whom were to make London their home. It is vitally important that we never forget and that we continue to learn from one of the most shameful periods in history.”

We then also heard a prayer from Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner and some beautiful music from Sophie Solomon of the Jewish institute as Sophie and Steven stepped up to light a candle in rememberance of all those who have suffered genocide. The moving service can be seen and downloaded here:

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The HET Ambassadors & Mayor Boris Johnson

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