Beth Shalom (‘House of Peace’) is a special kind of place. The museum is based in a large house in the Nottinghamshire countryside, hidden from the road by a small copse and surrounded by a thoughtfully landscaped garden. The house and land were donated for the purpose of educating people of all ages about some of the seemingly incomprehensible events leading up to and resulting from the twentieth century Holocaust (1930-1945). The visit to the museum offered Upper 5th girls an experience which went beyond documents, maps and classroom discussions. Through thousands of photographs, artefacts and recordings, donated by surviving members of persecuted families, girls began to trace the development of Nazi propaganda which led to fierce discrimination and eventual extermination of millions of people of Jewish and Romany origin and many others such as homosexuals, the mentally handicapped, any who were perceived to fall short of the ‘Aryan’ ideal.
Above all, girls were moved by their encounter with a Holocaust survivor. Joan Salter, now aged 75 years, retraced the story of her Polish-Jewish family and their journey to France, Belgium, Spain and eventually for her and her sister, to America and post-war to England, in their desperate efforts to escape the oppression of Nazi domination and the rising tide of anti-Semitism in central Europe. Girls had been encouraged during the day to think of questions that they would like to ask Joan and she answered these with calm reflection encouraging her audience to consider what they could do to avoid the recurrence of such an event. The challenge was then offered to consider the view that the Holocaust was caused by the choices that people made.
Outside in the garden of remembrance girls wandered through hundreds of white roses – each one representing the memory of lives lost but not forgotten. Finally, at the memorial dedicated to the 1.5 million Jewish children who perished, each of us added to a mound of thousands of pebbles. We focused on just one of the faces seen on the photographs and reflected on the distinction between the Jewish mitzvah to ‘remember’ and to ‘not forget’. Beth Shalom lives up to its name – it is a house of peace. Those who lost so many family members, those who journey to this remote spot to tell their survivor stories or who offer support to the centre, focus on hope for a better-informed world and for a peaceful resolution to issues of difference.