As our precious survivors pass away, possessions remain to tell their stories
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As our precious survivors pass away, possessions remain to tell their stories

New website, fittingly entitled Ordinary Objects, Extraordinary Journeys, showcases the life stories of two men and two women, and the objects which survived them.

Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist

The chess set Julie brought with her is emblematic of an important family pastime. She was a very capable chess player, and her father ran the local chess club in her hometown.
The chess set Julie brought with her is emblematic of an important family pastime. She was a very capable chess player, and her father ran the local chess club in her hometown.

All Holocaust educators are agreed — it is the ordinary objects which bring to life the stories of those who went through the Second World War genocide. Supposedly mundane items offer a different significance when attached to the owners or their families. And as the survivors themselves die, the objects remain and help to tell their stories.

Such is the thinking behind the launch of a new website created by the National Holocaust Centre and Museum and the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, in partnership with the Jewish Museum of Greece. The website, fittingly entitled Ordinary Objects, Extraordinary Journeys, showcases the life stories of two men and two women, and the objects which survived them.

The website — which received funding from the Arts Council, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, Leon Greenman Charitable Trust, and Cecil Rosen Foundation — was launched in Refugee Week, and will be used by the National Holocaust Centre and Museum in its school programmes to teach about the refugee experience.

The ornate jewellery box with a small colourful bird gives a glimpse into the affluent lifestyle Julie had before fleeing.

Those viewing the site can see a pair of beautifully knitted socks, made by Eda de Botton while she was incarcerated at Bergen-Belsen.

She and her husband had been living in Thessaloniki, Greece, when the Nazis invaded. The socks were intended for the couple’s only daughter, Reina, who was taken into a convent during the war.

Eda’s husband Alvertos joined the Greek resistance after the couple had been forced to divorce, in the forlorn hope that Eda could use her Spanish citizenship to escape.

Although all three survived the war, the Holocaust more or less destroyed the relationship between mother and daughter. Eda died in Greece in 1990.

Speaking at the launch of the website, Marc Cave, director of the National Holocaust Centre and Museum said: “When we and HMDT agreed to do a collections-based project together, we wanted to ensure it was in the service of telling the stories of some lesser known survivors of the Holocaust.

“Some of the objects seem mundane. Some seem beautiful. But all are priceless in what they tell us about the annihilation of normal Jewish family life right across Europe. There is a common misperception that the Holocaust just took place in Germany (and maybe Poland). This exhibition tells four stories spanning Greece, France, Austria, Germany, Poland, England and Scotland.

The opera glasses are indicative of the culture embedded in Julie’s old life in Austria.

“Ordinary Objects, Extraordinary Journeys is an interactive online exhibition. This is to democratise the idea of what an exhibition can be. Not only does it enable universal access but actually, we have used the storytelling properties like 360-degree spin-rounds which would not be possible in real life. It’s a rich digital experience using strong interaction and graphic design. It portrays epic journeys which crystallised the destruction and rebirth of the Jewish family unit. Hopefully it will make us all think about what matters most in our relationships as mothers, fathers, children, siblings and spouses”.

Dr Rachel Century, deputy chief executive of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, emphasised the importance of the project, saying: “These deeply personal objects leave the most profound impression on anyone looking at them. They are silent witnesses to the truth about incomprehensible human evil, offering everyone the opportunity to connect, empathise, and relate to victims of Nazi persecution; the objects say more than words ever could”.

She added: “We owe it to those who were murdered, and those who survived, and even future generations – to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive. What this project does is summon the power of ordinary objects to bring to life the experiences of those who endured the Holocaust”.

Zanet Battinou, an archaeologist who is director of the Jewish Museum of Greece (JMG), said: “Exploring four microcosms of the Holocaust reveals the complexity of the historical past and the pluralism of experiences. JMG believes this is the cornerstone of democratic education.

The website launched during Refugee Week to reflect the stories of refugees told through the website. Other speakers included Holocaust survivor John Hajdu MBE, and Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, who discussed refugee experiences past and present, and the relevance of “ordinary objects”.

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