The Thomas Hardye School

Holocaust Memorial Week 2014

Headteacher Mike Foley presenting Kindertransportee Harry Grenville with a school shield

Headteacher Mike Foley presenting Kindertransportee Harry Grenville with a school shield

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Following on from the Holocaust Memorial Day display in the Melvin Learning Resource Centre dedicated to the children who did not survive the Holocaust, and as part of its on-going commitment to the exemplary teaching and learning about the Holocaust and other genocides.  The Thomas Hardye School, an IoE Beacon School in Holocaust Education, held a variety of learning experiences during its Holocaust Memorial Week between 24 – 28th February 2014.  All students got the opportunity to hear the story of local resident and Holocaust survivor, Harry Grenville, during assemblies.  In keeping with the Holocaust Memorial Day theme of ‘Journeys’, Mr Grenville reflected on 3 journeys on continental Europe; the first was his journey to England as part of the Kindertransport in 1939, the second was the journey of his parents and grandmother being taken from Theresienstadt concentration camp to Auschwitz Birkenau.  The final journey was a more recent one to his former hometown in Germany to attend the laying of a commemorative ‘Stolperstein’, or ‘stumble stones’, dedicated to his family.  One student commented that, “Although it was really sad what Harry was saying, it makes such horrible things much more real hearing his story, and for that, I am grateful.”

Monday involved 100 A level students from Geography, Politics and French departments taking an in depth look at the 1994 Rwandan genocide which killed 1 million people – from the Tutsi group and Hutus who supported them. Two survivors, Johnson Mutibagirana and Bony Kayiranga, came to talk to sixth formers not just about the genocide, but also about Rwanda today. During the day students learned about the causes of the genocide. They were able to Skype with Carl Wilkens, who kept the orphanage where Johnson grew up, safe from attack. Later, they Skyped Senator Romeo Dallaire in Canada, who was commander of the tiny force of UN peacekeepers who stayed throughout the genocide, despite the UN pulling out most of its troops to keep them ‘safe’.

Both men, now in their 20s, were orphaned in 1994 and witnessed terrible scenes. However they say that Rwanda has gone through a painful but nevertheless impressive recovery from those days; differences between Hutus and Tutsi people has been downplayed so that all see themselves as Rwandan, in many cases there has also been a great forgiveness shown towards those who took part in the genocide, with village courts often reaching fair verdicts that have perhaps allowed people to move on. Rwanda is also one of the fastest growing economies in Africa.

Bony said “We are looking forward to be and to become people who our relatives would be proud of.”

Johnson said, “ I first express my gratitude for your invitation, what I can share with British people is that genocide can happen everywhere and at any time so it is necessary to always teach the young generation so that it may never happen again so the word ‘’Never Again’’  should be a reality”.

Students were asked to comment on the day: “Skyping with Carl Wilkens was so lovely, he was a brilliant speaker”.  “I learnt a lot about the genocide, which I did not know before”. “I have been prompted to do further research as a result of what I learnt”. “I shall take a keen interest in the Rwandan 2017 election!”

Prof. Richard Overy presented a fabulous community lecture on the evening of 24th February entitled Holocaust Killings: Ordinary men or Ideological Soldiers?  This topic dealt with some of the key arguments concerning how humans can commit genocide with what might be described as rational thought.  This understanding is as applicable to the perpetrators of the Cambodian, Rwandan, Bosnian and Sudanese genocides as it is the Holocaust and other Nazi genocides. It also presents a very clear, and terrifying, warning for the future as it takes away the cliché rhetoric of describing the perpetrators as inhuman monsters, and lays the very real possibility of people who chose to do nothing to stop such things, becoming a part of such horrifying global watersheds.  From the collection that was made at the end of the lecture, nearly £300 was donated to UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) at the request of Prof. Overy. 

100 year 9 students took part in an interdisciplinary study day on the Kindertransport on Wednesday 26th February.  Students chose to take part in 2 workshops from a selection of humanities, creative writing, art or drama subjects, in order to better understand the impact of the Holocaust on children and in particular, to better empathise with our speaker, Harry Grenville.  As part of the day Mr Grenville delivered a short biographical address to the students involved in the day entitled ‘the Nazis and I’.  Students had the opportunity to pose questions to Mr Grenville and showed a genuine desire to relate to his story. 

Reflecting on the day, THS English teacher Tim Ayre said “I thought that focusing on the Kindertransport enabled pupils to understand the Holocaust on a smaller scale by seeing some of the personal stories of survivors and victims. They really got a sense of how different subject areas can work together to deliver a different perspective on the same topic.”

And visiting performing arts educator, Charlotte Storey said “It was a real privilege to be part of the memorial activities. The students were very respectful of the material and created some very emotive vignettes from the life of a Kindertransport survivor.   Speaking with them, they were shocked and horrified to hear what had occurred in their grandparent's lifetimes in mainland Europe and spoke passionately about preventing this sort of event from happening by raising awareness through the arts and historical reflection as a central part of their learning in both of these disciplines.”

Thursday 27th February engaged all year 10 drama students in workshops looking at some of the many wide ranging choices people made during the Holocaust.  Actor and educator, Jonathan Salt, led groups through such polemic cases as Battalion 101 and the life of Dr.  Janusz Korczak.   The latter case study focusing on the rationale for his refusal to leave the 200 orphans in his care in the Warsaw ghetto when on route to the umschlagplatz, prior to their deportation to the Treblinka extermination camp in August 1942.  That evening, a spellbound audience had the opportunity to spend an evening with Dr. Korczak as he reflects upon his life and works in a performance of Confessions of a Butterfly

THS Holocaust and Genocide Education Programme Coordinator, Kevin Matthews said “The ‘Old Doctor’ was instrumental in the creation of UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and, as a Rights Respecting School, it was a real privilege to be able to bring Confessions of a Butterfly to the school as part of Holocaust Memorial Week.” 

The life and work of Dr. Janusz Korczak is largely unknown in the UK, but his work on progressive education and child care led to massive changes not only in his native Poland, but across the world.  Much of what we take for granted today with regards to the treatment and education of children, are thanks to him.  It is because of this legacy that the whole of year 11 got the chance to see the play on Friday afternoon and then, just as the adult audience did the night before, had the chance to pose a variety of questions to Jonathan Salt who wrote and produced the play, as well as playing Korczak.  The nature of this one man play provoked questions on such diverse topics as, how one goes about learning 90minutes of script?, to what was the mental state of Korczak at this point given his views on suicide?, to some of the more technical aspects of the performance. 

Mark Tattersal, Director of Dorchester Arts Centre, who was essential to being able to make these performances possible, said “Dorchester Arts values to opportunity to work in partnership with local schools, not just to support their performing arts teaching the arts but also as a powerful vehicle in many other curriculum areas. We were delighted to help in the presentation of 'Confessions of a Butterfly' as part of the Holocaust Memorial Week and to be able to promote the public performance in the school theatre.”

Reflecting on Holocaust Memorial Week, Kevin Matthews, the Holocaust and Genocide Education Programme Coordinator at The Thomas Hardye School said, “It has been such an amazing week I don’t really know where to start but feedback so far has been wonderful from staff and students alike.  It is a real privilege to lead the school’s HGEP and head up the school’s IoE Beacon School in Holocaust Education Status. I am really looking forward to working with staff, students, and the public, on future learning endeavours”.  

Holocaust Memorial Week marked the start of The Thomas Hardye School’s Holocaust and Genocide Education Programme which will continue to develop in the months and years to come.  Between now and the end of the year staff and students from The Thomas Hardye School will be involved in a study visit to Auschwitz, the 20th anniversary commemorations of the Rwandan Genocide at the UK ‘Kwibuka 20’ event in Birmingham on April 12th, a four day international conference on the Holocaust at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem to name but a few.  

Thanks must go to Anna Killick, Claire Davies, Paul O’Donnell, Delphine Didier, Gill Copson, Carl Wilkens, Senator L Gen Romeo Dallaire, Nicola Duckworth, Darius Jackson, Prof. Richard Overy, Judith Wardlaw, Jonathan Salt, Adam Darley, Vicky Needham, Lorraine Bowley, Kevin Moore, Tim Ayre, Charlotte Storey, Chloe Lawton, Jessica Thompson, Richard Scott and Mark Tattersall for being so instrumental in making Holocaust Memorial Week such a success. 

Special thanks must go to Harry Grenville, Johnson Mutibagirana and Bony Kayiranga for being willing to give up so much of their time, and being so open about such personal experiences, to better help staff and students understand the awful events which they have survived.

Mr Matthews and Mrs Killick

March 2014