Teacher helps deaf pupils to learn about Holocaust

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Teacher helps deaf pupils to learn about Holocaust

45 Aid Society's annual event celebrates survivors and their families

Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist

(l-r: Jackie Young, Harry Olmer, Joanna Millan, Mala Tribich Rachel Levy and Zdenka Husserl, plus members of the 3nd generation), lighting 6 memorial candles to represent the 6 million Jewish lives tragically lost during the Holocaust. 45 Aid 2024 Dinner 13486 Photo John Rifkin
(l-r: Jackie Young, Harry Olmer, Joanna Millan, Mala Tribich Rachel Levy and Zdenka Husserl, plus members of the 3nd generation), lighting 6 memorial candles to represent the 6 million Jewish lives tragically lost during the Holocaust. 45 Aid 2024 Dinner 13486 Photo John Rifkin

A history teacher from Nottingham held a 300-strong audience spellbound on Sunday night as he told members and supporters of the 45 Aid Society of his mission to help young deaf people learn about the Holocaust.

Domonic Townsend teaches at Nottingham University Samworth Academy, or NUSA. For the last three years he and colleagues have been working with deaf students and have successfully created a vocabulary of about 20 words relating to the Holocaust, which can be rendered in British Sign Language (BSL). The new terminology includes the signing for “death march”, “Gestapo”, “Kindertransport” and “liberation”.

Townsend told the audience: “We wanted to ensure that deaf pupils have the same level of Holocaust education as their hearing counterparts”. He called the work “transformative” and unveiled his latest project, a BSL choir of students singing the English lyrics of Matisyahu’s song, One Day. Townsend’s work at NUSA is supported by the 45 Aid Society, whose chair, Angela Cohen, said it was “an honour” to have him address the annual reunion event.

The 45-ers’ reunion this year was — inevitably — heavily weighted in favour of those of the second and third generation, though a highlight of the evening was an interview with one of the youngest survivors, Jackie Young.

Jackie Young, being interviewed by actress and 2nd generation Louisa Clein. Photo: John Rifkin

Speaking to actress Louisa Clein, Young, who arrived in Britain aged just over three years old in 1945, spoke of being adopted by a loving North London Jewish couple, who refused to discuss his previous life or his biological parents.

He only discovered that he had been born Jona Spiegel in Vienna — and that he had spent two years, eight months, in Theresienstadt camp in Czechoslovakia — when he needed papers confirming his Jewish status in order to get married.

In fact, Young was one of six Jewish children taken to live at a house called Bulldog’s Bank in Sussex, where they formed part of a psychological study by Anna Freud, Sigmund Freud’s daughter, one of the few studies of survivor children.

Now, he told Louisa Clein, his greatest ambition “is to find a photograph of my biological parents”. Working with a DNA specialist, he has subsequently discovered his father’s name, which he did not know previously, and found some distant cousins, whom he hoped might have family pictures previously unseen.

Jackie Young as a little boy

Jonathan Kingsley, son of the late 45 Aid volunteer Lorraine Kingsley, announced that an annual award in his mother’s name would go this year to the historian, journalist and archivist Rosie Whitehouse. And BBC journalist and third generation member Hannah Gelbart was on hand to interview another member of the third generation, lawyer and TV presenter Rob Rinder.

Lord John Mann, Chairman Angela Cohen, Lord Eric Pickles and Joan Ryan (former MP and now Exec Director of Elnet) 45 Aid 2024 Dinner. Photo: John Rifkin

After an annual lighting of six memorial candles by survivors and their families, Angela Cohen spoke passionately of the 45 Aid Society’s continuing mission to ensure remembrance of the Holocaust, particularly in relation to the 732 strong group known as The Boys, who arrived in Britain in 1945. The second and third generation are descendants of the group, who formed their own, tight-knit families after their blood relatives had been murdered by the Nazis.

The sense of fun and family was most evident when, as has become traditional, most of those present took to the dance floor. Among those spotted throwing shapes was the UK’s post-Holocaust envoy Lord Pickles, who later joked: “There is nothing like a boogie with chums”.

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