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August 23, 2017
Archives - Your Family History

“The past suddenly becomes the present and very vivid”


“The past suddenly becomes the present and very vivid”

By Jemima Mowlem

Read 16 year old Jemima’s blog about her work experience in World Jewish Relief’s archives team:

It’s a busy world, so much to do, so little time.  Rarely can we ponder over our family’s past but every once in a while we may find ourselves daydreaming about our ancestors; what were their talents, their weaknesses? Did we inherit their characteristics?  Usually our questions are untied loose ends – we have no answers, all we have is a name, a birthdate, and a faint idea of how these people established a life of safety, which we were born into. We have facts but little meaningful insight into our family’s past.

But in World Jewish Relief’s extensive archive answers for some family members can be found…

This summer I took a week out of my break from school, post GCSEs, to do work experience at this wonderful charity. I was aware of the extensive work they do for many people in countries in need, having visited Ukraine with them at the time of my Batmitzvah as well as the publicity they gain through fundraising.  Therefore, before arriving I imagined a grand-scale office with a vast number of people.

So upon entering the official World Jewish Relief Headquarters (which I was afraid of mistaking for someone’s cottage), dotted with the very few volunteers somewhat came as a shock. I learned that despite how small the charity is, it is composed of hard-working and passionate people, allowing them to spread their wings over many communities.

More surprisingly, it’s where 35,000 unique stories from the 65,000 rescued Europeans in the 1930s and 40s can be read. It’s where 35,000 questions can be answered. And one of these could hold the details of your relatives: their characteristics, activities and friends when they came to England. It’s only a call or an email away.

The best part of volunteering in the archives sector of World Jewish Relief is experiencing the reactions of those people who come in to learn more of their family member’s past with the help of case files, recording pinnacles in their life. The archives bring an intimacy to the people who seemed so far away. They allow you to share their successes and misfortunes and discover friends or family who helped them before they became independent from the support- both emotionally and financially-of World Jewish Relief. The past suddenly becomes the present and very vivid, which truly is a once in lifetime experience.

Legacies are something I have been thinking about during my experience at World Jewish Relief. By this I mean the concept of a purposeful way of being remembered for achievements. Surely not only surviving but also flourishing after the Holocaust whilst being a child, penniless, motherless and fatherless is remarkable? Surely future generations, their children and children’s children should know and take pride in how their ancestors accomplished safety and life? To simply forget would be a shame.

My sympathy evoked for Jewish immigrants during the Holocaust transformed into sympathy for the present day refugees from countries whose citizens are under danger. Hence, World Jewish Relief gives support to refugees from Syria or countries with natural disasters.

The intimate connection with past family members and even living connections, which you never knew existed, can be discovered with the help of the archives team. And all it takes is a few small facts and awe for the children who survived, so they can live on in the stories World Jewish Relief can provide you.

If you think we might have your family files, please contact us via the web form on our Your Family History page.