Jess, who’s 13, says: When mum and dad told me that we were going to be visiting the National Holocaust Centre and Museum as part of our visit to Nottinghamshire, I was confused. Not as to why we were visiting the museum in the first place, but why it was situated near Nottingham – I had expected it to be in London, or possibly Manchester, where are British Jewish communities.
We watched a video upon arrival, telling us that the founders of the National Holocaust Museum, James and Stephen Smith, had visited Yad Vashem (the Holocaust Museum) in Israel, where they learnt about the horrendous conditions inside the Nazis’s concentration camps, and the terrible persecution the Jews faced. They realised that they shouldn’t have to travel to the Middle East to learn about this, so they asked their mother for access to her farmhouse near Nottingham to create an exhibition. Over time, the exhibition became a museum, and last year it became the National Holocaust Museum.
The first thing you see upon entering the museum are lots of white roses. The garden was filled with them, and each one had a plaque underneath saying who it was dedicated to. This was beautiful and emotional, and the messages on the plaques were very moving and depressing. One message was dedicated to “all my family” and another was dedicated to a man’s dead parents and grandparents. I cannot imagine losing all of my family – murdered just because of who they were.
There were also lots of memorials in the garden for people persecuted by the Nazis: one for the homosexuals, one for the gypsies and another for all of the children murdered. This was especially moving – a mountain of rocks. Each rock symbolised a child killed in the Holocaust, and mum, dad, Robert and I put one onto the pile for our relatives who died. Although the garden was sunny, there was a very sombre atmosphere.
After watching the introductory video, our family walked into the main exhibition. We started off by looking at lots of different pictures of people in the Holocaust. I learnt that the Nazis kept records of everything they did in the Holocaust, so it is simple to find pictures and information about the people they killed.
I found out about the origins of antisemitism, and was shocked by how Jews were portrayed throughout history, without doing anything wrong.
After this, we went into some rooms telling us about Germany before the war, and how and why Hitler came to power. Germany was annoyed at how they had been “cheated” by the Allies with the Treaty of Versailles, and wanted to reclaim their land and money after the hyperinflation in the early 1920s. I knew a lot about the Holocaust before the museum because of going to talks and reading books, but I was interested as to why Hitler became so popular, so quickly.
I thought that the main exhibition was really well done, as there was lots of information, incredible (and upsetting) pictures and there were some videos to watch with additional information. There were lots of artefacts from the war such as medals, stars that the Jews had to wear to identify their religion and clothes that people had to wear in the concentration camps. This was fascinating, as I never had thought that I would see one before. The uniform from the concentration camp even had the owner’s name on.
I learnt where all of the different camps were across Europe, and what the different types meant. We found out the difference between a work and a concentration camp, and listened to survivors’s recounts of life there. It was a very shocking and emotional experience.
Something that particularly struck me was a series of maps of Europe. One was from the 1930s, one was from the 40s and the last was from the 50s. These maps had circles on, with their sizes indicating the amount of Jews in that country. The Jewish population in the 30s was reasonably large, but this decreased slightly by the 40s. By the 50s, the Jews were virtually eliminated from the continent apart from in the UK.
The end of the exhibition was dedicated to non-Jews who risked their lives protecting the Jews. There was a panel decorated to Nicholas Winton, who brought hundreds of Jews over to England from Czechoslovakia, and I was especially interested in Bulgaria during the war. Though the government put discriminatory laws in place, the general public led an outcry and eventually the laws were dropped. Consequently, thousands of lives were saved because the public stood up for what they thought was right.
Overall, I thought that the exhibition was brilliant. It was very informative, incredibly moving and definitely shocking. There was lots of things to see, watch and do, and it is a must for everyone to find out about the Holocaust. Robert was confused about some of the details, so we decided to go upstairs to The Journey – the children’s exhibition. This is what Robert thought…
Robert says: I didn’t know much about the Holocaust before I came to the centre in Newark as we only briefly touched upon it at school, so some of the facts and pictures I saw there were quite sad as well as informative. I didn’t understand lots of the information in the main exhibition but I learnt loads in The Journey. The Journey was a story showing a young boy (called Leo’s) life during the Holocaust. He had been born in Berlin.
The rooms were fantastically well made as it showed exactly what the story said. In every room there was a touch screen computer with three options. These were: “Where are we?” (This explained what this room meant to Leo like his living room or his Dad’s shop), “Leo’s Diary” where “Leo” explained what had happened in that room, and finally “Survivors’ Stories”, where people told their similar tales to the diary entry. For example, when we were in the train, you heard survivors talk about their journey on a train. I loved all the props and rooms but my favourite was the hidden room.
To escape from the Nazis, Leo’s dad had built a secret passageway in his shop. It was really hard to find. Inside the secret room was a bed, a horrible looking toilet and a few more basic things. I couldn’t imagine living in there for more than a day, let alone years. The last room was a special room with lots of artefacts from the people who had read aloud their survivors stories. Every object had a label with a memory on it and I felt quite moved at all the different feelings. One of the objects was a shaving brush which looked normal but when you unscrewed the nails a false bottom opened and inside was a bar of gold. They were really clever.
Jess says: I thought that the journey was incredibly well done. Although it was slightly basic information for me, I know that Robert really enjoyed it, and I wasn’t bored when walking through. It told the story of a boy named Leo who lived in Berlin when the Nazis came to power. His teacher, classmates and friends started making fun of him for his religion, and his family’s shop was ransacked. Eventually, his parents decided to send him on a train to England, so he could be safe.
I liked how we were allowed to open the drawers, and we could see the toys that Leo was playing with in his video. The rooms looked exactly as how they would have done during the war, and The train even had screens on all of the windows to make it look like we were travelling through the countryside!
Overall, I think the National Holocaust Museum is a must-visit, as it genuinely is a fascinating and informative place to go. Lots of people don’t know anyone who was affected by the Holocaust, which is why it is so important that we continue to educate everyone about the terrible events that took place. Even though I already knew a lot about it, I learnt a lot more and was enlightened. Survivors of the Holocaust often give talks at the museum, and I would have loved you to see one. If you want to learn about the Holocaust in the UK, this is probably the best place to go – there is lots for adults and children alike, it is stunning and incredibly interesting.
Although the museum isn’t meant to be enjoyable, it certainly is worthwhile.
The National Holocaust Centre is open Sundays to Fridays, and is located in Laxton, Nottinghamshire. It was difficult to find, so you might want to bring a sat-nav along for your trip! The website recommends the main exhibition for children aged 14+ and The Journey for children 8+, although I think the main exhibition is suitable for children aged 12+. Tickets cost £8 for adults and £7 for concessions, although a family ticket (two adults and up to three children) costs £28. There are speakers talking every Sunday throughout the summer and you can see a list here.
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