Opinion: UK Holocaust Testimony Portal offers a vision for the future

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Opinion: UK Holocaust Testimony Portal offers a vision for the future

With an ever-growing pernicious threat as to how Shoah history is preserved and remembered, the Portal will play a pivotal role in the fight against Holocaust distortion and false equivalence

Natasha-Kaplinsky-with-first-generation-refugees-and-survivors-alongside-International-Holocaust-Testimony-Forum-organisers-Association-of-Jewish-Refugees-and-Lord Pickles. Pic: AJR
Natasha-Kaplinsky-with-first-generation-refugees-and-survivors-alongside-International-Holocaust-Testimony-Forum-organisers-Association-of-Jewish-Refugees-and-Lord Pickles. Pic: AJR

It is remembrance season in the Jewish calendar.

As well as marking Yom Hazikaron and Yom HaShoah, this year we also commemorate the eightieth anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising.

As well as being an example of a civilian Polish revolt, the rebellion against the deportation of Jews to the Treblinka death camp also led to the creation of the first testimonies of eye-witnesses to the horrors of the Holocaust.

The Oneg Shabbat archive, buried in milk churns in the ruins of the ghetto, give us a unique lens into the brutality of the Nazis and the desperation of those fighting for their lives. It also dispels the myth of the lambs-to-the-slaughter narrative.

Lord Pickles: Adam Soller Photography/ The AJR

Yet, eight decades on, there is a pernicious and growing threat as to how that history is preserved and remembered. Whereas we consider it unimaginable that such terror could ever be questioned, there are those who seek to deny, to trivialise, diminish and distort. Testimonies, the word of those who were there and provide a contemporaneous account of what happened, act as the antidote to this falsification.

As part of this year’s remembrance of the uprising, the AJR together with the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and His Excellency Miguel Berger, the German Ambassador, staged the International Forum on Holocaust testimonies.

Our two-day conference explored the ways in which testimonies are collected, preserved and disseminated and brought together academics, educators and archivists to analyse, assess and evaluate how best to use these compelling accounts.

Michael-Newman-and-Natasha-Kaplinsky. Pic: AJR

Critically, also present were some Holocaust refugees and survivors; those who came on the Kindertransport and those hidden as children or who miraculously survived the concentration camps. Reflecting the shifting demography, participants also included member of the second, third and fourth generations.

We were excited to announce the creation of a working group that will explore and oversee the establishment of the UK Holocaust Testimony Portal.

It is in our power to make the estimated 2,500 UK Holocaust testimonies more available. The AJR has captured almost 300 testimonies for our Refugee Voices Testimony Archive in the last 20 years and having created a database driven website (ajrrefugeevoices.org.uk), which enables users to digitally search through the archive and find specific interviewees and specific experiences, we know that it is of utmost importance to map these UK Holocaust memories on a broader, cross institutional scale.

Among other collections, the 112 interviews carried out by Natasha Kaplinsky for the Holocaust Commission (now the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation) will also be accessible.

Through a comprehensive database, the portal will enable family members of interviewees, researchers and the wider public to cross reference interviewees by name and find out when and by which archive they have been interviewed. It will enable a user to find a theme, topic or even a place, such as Berlin or Auschwitz, for specific areas of research or interest, and it will allow the sharing of documents relating to an interviewee’s life story.

As custodians of these precious testimonies of survivors and refugees who made new lives in the UK, the portal will facilitate better access and dissemination of UK Holocaust testimonies and help us to fulfil the wish expressed by most interviewees, to use their testimonies in order to learn from the past, so that history does not repeat again.

In the fight against current Holocaust distortion and false equivalence, the Portal can play a vital role in helping us to learn as much as we can about the lives of all the survivors and refugees from Nazism, who had the courage to share their story.

Above all, the Portal will ensure that their stories will be heard in the present and in the future and reflects our collective determination to pass on these stories for future generations.


  • Lord Pickles, UK Special Envoy for Post-Holocaust Issues; Michael Newman, Chief Executive, Association of Jewish Refugees; Dr Bea Lewkowicz, Director AJR Refugee Voices Testimony Archive
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