On 8 February 2017, local secondary school pupils and university students gathered for the University of Exeter’s first Schools Conference to mark Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD). The event was organised by Barnabas Balint, a History student at the University and a HMD Youth Champion Board Member for the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust (HMDT). The aim of the event was to educate young people about past atrocities, as well as give them experience of university life.
Approximately 65 students from across Devon heard first-hand about the experiences of Ernest Simon, a survivor of the Holocaust who came to the UK on the Kindertransport shortly before the outbreak of war in 1939. Ernest talked about his upbringing in Austria and shared his memories of Nazi persecution as a young child, before coming to England and learning to adapt to life in Britain without his parents or siblings. Fortunately, Ernest was one of very few children from the Kindertransport to be reunited with his family, although his father was interned for a year on the Isle of Man as an ‘enemy alien’.
After listening to Ernest speak, academic experts from the University of Exeter led seminars on the Nazi regime, the treatment of Germans and Austrians living in Britain during World War Two and Jewish religious responses to the Holocaust. Those at the conference were also able to learn about the ongoing Genocide in Darfur through a display of drawings by Darfuri refugee children, provided by Waging Peace - a human rights organisation who campaign against genocide and systematic human rights violations in Sudan. At the end of the day attendees read poems and wrote pledges on a ‘reflections’ board, which was uploaded onto HMDT’s Wall of Life.
Teachers who attended were given HMD resources to enable them to continue discussions with their pupils in the classroom.