Fit for the future? The challenges facing Holocaust museums

This month we welcome our guest blogger Deputy CEO Sarah Coward from The National Holocaust Centre and Museum.

31st August 2017

The National Holocaust Centre and Museum is one of Pears Foundation’s longest partnerships. We asked Deputy CEO Sarah Coward to explain more about the Centre’s unique setting, which combines a memorial garden, education centre and museum and the challenges they face in delivering Holocaust education to a new generation.

The National Holocaust Centre and Museum is at a critical point in its collections work – as survivors age, the stories behind the artefacts donated to the museum is in danger of being lost.

Our curatorial, research and educational staff have been working on a range of projects that address these critical issues: all underpinned by the partnership with Pears Foundation which provides a solid base for our curatorial and research teams.

The curatorial and research team have been working closely with survivors to make sure that future audiences can continue to engage with the Collections in ways which will support their learning and ignite their interest. This is being achieved by recording survivors talking about topics of particular interest to school parties as well as filming Holocaust survivors talking about their personal belongings which they have donated to the Museum.

The survivors participating in our curatorial work have come from a range of backgrounds and countries, allowing us to record experiences from across Europe. All of the participants were keen to document the stories behind their artefacts, and spoke of the importance of this process for future audience engagement. Some of the participants involved have not been filmed by our team before, and many have never recorded in detail the history of their donated objects.

In recent months the work has particularly concentrated on developing supporting materials for our exhibition specifically designed for primary school children – The Journey – and for the immersive digital version of the same exhibition that the Centre will launch in 2018. This work has brought survivors and children together to discuss future interpretation.

The connection between the museum’s artefacts, survivor testimony, and our educational programmes is paramount: using the historical evidence to support a greater understanding of the events of the Holocaust, and to encourage reflection on key issues such as propaganda and prejudice.

Due to increasing demand for our programmes, we are now testing increased outreach work to bring our educational expertise to wider audiences in the UK.  This will open up our work to thousands more children.

The Pears Foundation’s continued core support continues to be vital to this growth and development.  Our longstanding friendship with Trevor Pears and the Foundation team means that we can share our long term strategic plans, and benefit from their insights into Holocaust education and research.  These are exciting times for the Centre’s development, despite the challenges our society faces, and we look forward to partnering with the Foundation in the next chapter of the Centre’s work.