‘The experience of meeting many survivors, who have empowered me and inspired me, is something I will never forget. I aim to instil this in other young people, ensuring those personal stories told to me are always retold and that I keep their memories alive.’
You can download a PDF version of Josh Whatsize's life story here.
I was born and grew up near Portsmouth, until recently when I moved to London to go to university. As far as I am aware, I have no personal connection to the Holocaust or genocide, and neither my immediate family nor my extended family is Jewish. Like I say to many who ask, my active involvement and remembrance of Holocaust Memorial Day is purely down to a passion to learn, and a determination to inform others of the atrocities of the past.
My story and involvement with Holocaust Memorial Day began in 2010. On a cold winter’s day in Poland I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau. At this time I was 17 and had just started studying for my A-levels. I knew very little about the Holocaust. Nonetheless I was keen to learn more and felt a trip to Auschwitz would be a good place to start. What I was arrogantly unaware of however, was how touched I would become emotionally and how motivated I would be to tell others of my visit. As I stood in the middle of the camp, with silence and stillness all around me I began to reflect and ask myself questions. Why did this happen? Why can humans be so cruel? But most importantly, what could be done to stop this happening again? When I left Poland, I came back determined to never forget and wanted a chance to unleash a new passion of mine, a passion to tell and inform.
With no known family connection to the Holocaust, my incentive to learn more about the past is fuelled by the knowledge that acts of hatred continue to happen today. After my trip to Poland I set out to inform as many young people as I could. This task in my opinion will never be complete, but will always be paramount in the attempt to secure a future without such hatred.
A year after my trip I became involved with the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, as their HMD Lead Youth Champion. By this time I had spoken to over 2,000 young people in local colleges and schools, covering different ages, ethnicities and abilities. I had delivered presentations and workshops on the Holocaust and subsequent genocides as well as my personal experiences when visiting Auschwitz and talking to survivors. This was my way of informing them and my attempt to pass on some of the stories and memories I had read, in an effort to ensure they were and are never forgotten.
I have a big interest in theatre and wanted to use the opportunities available to me after I had left college to create a piece of theatre that was capable of reaching a new type of audience. Something that was powerful and motivational, whilst staying true to those who had experienced these acts of hatred. By creating a show using the words of survivors, I felt the memories would be heard and continue to be retold. I believe theatre can be powerful platform to raise awareness and the show enabled me to create awareness and reach out to different generations.
I have been remembering and actively engaged with Holocaust Memorial Day for over four years now and I will always do so. As the Lead Youth Champion I have helped to develop the Youth Champion Programme as well as empower, inspire and support other Youth Champions to act now. As someone interested in human rights, I know the importance of not only remembering the past but encouraging young people to remember and act. Young people may be aware of atrocities taking place, but using this knowledge to limit such hatred in the future will always be a challenge, but one we must take on. The experience of meeting many survivors, who have empowered me and inspired me, is something I will never forget. I aim to instil this in other young people, ensuring those personal stories told to me are always retold and that I keep their memories alive.
Holocaust Memorial Day Youth Champion Programme
The HMD Youth Champion Programme empowers young people to take action for Holocaust Memorial Day by organising their own events and raising awareness of HMD amongst other young people.
If you are aged 13-17 or 18-24 and interested in becoming a HMD Youth Champion, email Josh at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
The Josh Whatsize life story has also been translated into Welsh.