Schools shun Holocaust survivor drama over Gaza

The latest Jewish News

Read this week’s digital edition

Click Here

Schools shun Holocaust survivor drama over Gaza

EXCLUSIVE: Voices of the Holocaust charity founder Cate Hollis tells of ‘heartbreak’ after 85 percent fall in school bookings since 7 October for play about Susan Pollack

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Scene from the Holocaust educational play Kindness: A Legacy of the Holocaust
Scene from the Holocaust educational play Kindness: A Legacy of the Holocaust

Schools nationwide have snubbed a play about Holocaust survivor Susan Pollack amid claims by teachers of a “contemporary political agenda” and even threats of parent protests.

The founder of a charitable organisation that works with schools to ensure the lessons of the Holocaust are taught to students through the voices of survivors this week revealed a “shocking” drop in bookings since the 7 October Hamas terror attacks on southern Israel.

Cate Hollis told Jewish News that numerous schools had postponed or cancelled staging a drama made by her Voices of the Holocaust organisation telling the life story of Auschwitz-Birkenau survivor Susan Pollack.

Hollis, who left 15 years of classroom teaching, having gained postgraduate qualifications in genocide and human rights history, to set up the charity said there is now a disturbing “conflation of Holocaust education with contemporary Middle Eastern politics” among school leaders as a result of the ongoing conflict in Gaza.

The play was adapted by Hollis, the theatre’s founder and artistic director, and British playwright Mark Wheeller.

A special performance of the play, Kindness: A Legacy of the Holocaust, takes place in St John’s Wood, north London, next week to mark Yom HaShoah, with Pollack also attending to take part in a question and answer session.

Special performance of Kindness on Yom HaShoah 2024

She has previously described the production as “excellent” and “very faithful” to her experiences.

Revealing that schools had now shunned putting on the play in response to 7 October, Hollis told Jewish News: “How do I look Susan in the eye and tell her [that] senior leaders are turning away from this fundamental period of human history?

“It’s honestly heart-breaking, and frankly frightening for the future. And the distortions and denials are going to wriggle further and further in the absence of true knowledge and remembrance.”Hollis also revealed she had clashed with one school head after he suggested the play would come to the school with “some kind of contemporary political agenda”.

Susan Pollack OBE

The drama is an account of Pollack’s life story, and she openly collaborated with those making it.

Meanwhile, when a school in Buckinghamshire said it was going to stage the play, Hollis, who is not Jewish, confirmed that this prompted a parent-led campaign and the threat of a protest outside the gates. Emails asked when the “voices of the Palestinian Holocaust” would be heard.

Hollis has advised the Holocaust Educational Trust, the Holocaust Education Centre, and worked with the Arts Council on using drama to team history in the past. She said that prior to the 7 October Hamas massacre the Voices of the Holocaust charity would stage up to 20 productions of the Kindness play at schools across the country in a single term, reaching up 4,500 youngsters.

Bookings have now dipped so dramatically that this summer term, they will be staging the production at just three schools, reaching only 650 kids.

“We have had withdrawals from bookings, a number of schools openly say, ‘Now is not the time, maybe next year,’” revealed Hollis, who founded the Voices charity in 2012, and who then received support from the European Jewish Fund.

“We’ve got three school bookings for the whole school term, that’s it… shocking.”

She condemned what she said was “the conflation of Holocaust education with contemporary Middle Eastern politics”, adding that it “blows my mind, and yet it doesn’t because we teach antisemitism day in day out”.

Voices of the Holocaust founder Cate Hollis

Hollis continued: “I had it out with one school. I will not name the school because they’ve had us back since.

“I had a very free and frank conversation with their headteacher for making an assumption that we were going in with some kind of contemporary political agenda. [That] was per se an antisemitic decision.

“Actually, now more than ever, we need to be engaging young people with what the Holocaust means to us, and for us.”

Hollis said she did not want to appear to suggest a systematic failure among school leadership teams but she believes “they are scared of getting it wrong” in relation to conflict in Gaza and its impact on students here.

“We have to be able to have dialogue with schools,” she said. “We can guide those schools, we can lead schools on what is out there. But they have to be willing to listen and to talk.

“Our specialism is Holocaust education, not contemporary Middle East politics. We have had to learn hard and fast over the last six to seven months how to direct schools to the support that they need in the hope that they take it.”

But she also spoke of the ugly response to the staging of the play, which the charity worked on in collaboration with Pollack for several years before it was premiered after the pandemic to hugely positive reviews, Hollis told of protests at a school in Bucks.

She said of the school: “They thought parents would picket the gates when we arrived. The senior leaders were really strong and urged us to still go. Some students were withdrawn from school for the day so we didn’t reach those hearts and minds. But we did reach 250 students and made a difference to them.”

Hollis said she later learned that the school had not discussed the issues arising in the Middle East in assemblies, accusing it of “running scared” of the topic. She added: “This is what happens if a school isn’t willing to educate on something that is difficult and complex.

“If you are not going to teach it, then you are leaving a void. And we know what happens in that void, it’s full of social media nonsense and bias. We are not doing justice to young people. We are failing to educate because the senior leadership team is scared because it’s complicated. But actually, is it?”

Scene from the Holocaust education play Kindness

She revealed that there were schools still wanting to stage the play but who were unable to afford the £900 fee to pay for the four cast members, two technicians and the hire of a van needed to stage the production.

“We are not cheap,” she accepted, stressing that the fees only covered the cost of putting on the production.

She added that her mission now was to be free at the point of use. “Because we know for every school that has turned away from us there are others begging for us, they just don’t have the money.”

Hollis first met Pollack at a conference. Hollis gave her a lift home, and Pollack suggested she write her life story as a play. “She is extraordinary,” Hollis said of Pollack, who has attended performances of the play, which also incorporates stories of other survivors.

She added: “The mission now is to be free at the point of use. Because we know for every school that has turned away from us there are others begging for us, they just don’t have the money.”

Hollis said there was a school in Wirral that she had visited before who had a drama hall which was “freezing” because they could not afford to heat it properly. This same school had wanted to stage the Kindness play, but admitted they were so cash-strapped they could not afford to pay to stage it.

She says plans are being worked on to tell the stories of other survivors fully in plays, including that of Zigi Shipper, who passed away in January 2023.

“Until people see our work it’s hard to understand why it’s so important,” says Hollis. “It’s very different to what people would imagine a play about the Holocaust to be.”

Scene from the play Kindness

The need for increased financial backing for her charity has never been more vital, Hollis argues.

“We need to be free at the point of use as a charity, because, yes, we may never win some of those senior leaders at the moment but we have conversations with hundreds of schools.

“They are financially at breaking point. When schools can’t afford the heating they are struggling to spend on Holocaust education, which they know is important.

“They are picking the text books up off the shelf because they are free. They don’t have the same impact.

“Kindness is mind-blowing. There is not a single person who sees it who doesn’t get it.

“This carries Susan’s voice and her legacy on her behalf. It provides schools with educational support across the curriculum from history to citizenship issues. We just have to bypass the finances.

“We can easily reach 42,000 kids across the country with just one cast of this play.

“The Imperial War Museum’s Holocaust galleries are extraordinary, but they cost millions. It would cost us around £250,000 a year to stage our play.”

• To book tickets for the performance of Kindness at a venue in St John’s Wood on 8 May please click here.

Support your Jewish community. Support your Jewish News

Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.

For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.

Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.

You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.

100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...


Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.


There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.


In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.


Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.

Easy access

In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.

Voice of our community to wider society

The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.

We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.

read more: