This Pesach will you help families in Ukraine deal with the trauma of war?

Donate Now
Skip Main Navigation
March 19, 2018

Responding to the Present by Remembering the Past: a one-day workshop


Responding to the Present by Remembering the Past: a one-day workshop

By Richard Verber

World Jewish Relief joined twenty academics, PhD students from Nottingham Trent University and Jewish community members for a workshop in Nottingham last week on ‘Responding to the Present by Remembering the Past’. The event, organised by PhD candidate Amy Williams at the Nottingham Conference Centre and funded by Midlands3Cities, brought together a range of voices to look at the history and memory of the Kindertransport and the work of international development agency World Jewish Relief today.

The Kindertransport was a rescue operation spearheaded by World Jewish Relief in the 1930s which brought thousands of children to safety from Nazi Germany and Austria. Tens of thousands of adults were also rescued by the charity which was known then as the Central British Fund for German Jewry.

Historian Mike Levy outlined the organisation’s history and showed some rare footage of the first children arriving in the UK. World Jewish Relief’s founders included Chaim Weizmann (later the first President of the modern State of Israel), Simon Marks (of Marks and Spencer’s fame) and two of the Rothschilds.

World Jewish Relief’s founders were made up of both Zionists and non-Zionists. The Zionists believed that the Jewish refugees from the 1930s would only be safe in Palestine and organised to get them there. The non-Zionists felt that the solution was the UK, USA and Canada. Nevertheless, they all worked together.

Aneesa Riffat, curator at the National Holocaust Centre and Museum, told attendees about the challenges of working with Holocaust survivor testimony.  Despite the wealth of evidence out there, sadly holocaust denial is on the rise. Time is running out to document survivors’ testimony as they get older and this testimony is irrefutable proof of the Holocaust.

Dr Andrea Hammel, Reader in German at Aberystwyth University, looked at how public opinion today is in favour of helping child refugees. She challenged the audience by asking whether preferential treatment is healthy: although public opinion is overwhelmingly in favour of supporting child refugees, people are more ambivalent about helping older refugees. There is an interesting parallel with the Kindertransport, when Britons wanted to help girls aged 6-10 years old when in fact older boys were more at risk of being arrested in Germany and so perhaps in more urgent need of support.

 PhD candidates shared their research topics which included the use of memory in Kindertransport memorials and popular culture, ongoing excavations at Sobibor death camp and child refugees under the Vichy regime.

World Jewish Relief’s Richard Verber spoke about the current work of the organisation 80 years on, including its programmes supporting vulnerable Jewish communities in Eastern Europe, and its disaster response programmes around the world including with today’s refugee crisis.