Holocaust Educational Trust Regional Ambassador Day, Wednesday 25th November 2015

The latest Regional Ambassador Day took place outside London for only the second time since the Ambassador Programme was established. The venue of choice was the unique Manchester Jewish Museum. Formerly a synagogue built in 1874, as the Jewish population moved out of the local area, the building was reborn as a Museum in the 1980s. It was certainly a very special building in which to hold our latest meeting.

The main stained glass window and former Ark in the Jewish Museum

We began the day by reflecting on the key events that have taken place over 2015, both nationally and within the Holocaust Educational Trust. As we marked the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau and other camps, over 3,600 events took place across the UK to mark Holocaust Memorial Day; the Trust launched their 70 Voices mobile app; and Her Majesty the Queen visited Bergen-Belsen.

HET Education Officer Martin Winstone then led an educational session on anti-Semitism. Using resources from the Trust's own 'Exploring the Holocaust' teaching pack, we discussed forms of historical anti-Semitism and compared them both to Nazi and more contemporary anti-Semitism. Cases explored included the York massacre of 1190, the Strasbourg masscare of 1349, Martin Luther's anti-Semitism and the Dreyfus Affair. Ambassadors commented on the religious and non-religious aspects of these cases and compared them with quotes from Hitler's 'Mein Kampf' and Nazi propaganda.
We were then privileged enough to take part in a session led by Yiftach Meiri. Yiftach is part of The European Department at the International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, and led both Ambassador Study Visits to the Museum. Before the Regional Ambassador Day, we were each assigned 'homework'(!) to research certain non-Jewish rescuers who saved Jewish lives during the Holocaust, and presented what we had found to the rest of the group. I was assigned two very interesting stories; both rescuers were somewhat unlikely heroes. The first rescuer was Giorgio Perlasca, an Italian pro-fascist living in Budapest during the Holocaust; the second was Wehrmacht lieutenant Dr Albert Battel, who actually blocked the entrance to the Prezemysl ghetto when the SS announced its liquidation.

After lunch, we were given a talk by a Museum volunteer about the history of the Jewish Museum and the surrounding area. The former synagogue is located on Cheetham Hill Road, which was once home to a very large Jewish community. This street was once the site of eight different synagogues. It was in this area that Michael Marks and business partner Thomas Spencer set up their first shop (yes, that's right - Marks & Spencer!). It was also home to the headquarters of the Manchester Zionist Organisation, where Chaim Weizmann once worked and began negotiations on the Balfour Declaration.
We then had a little time to look around the Museum, in particular the gallery upstairs. The Museum is hoping to open an extension to the current building by 2019, which will provide more space for the updated galleries which it deserves.

The rest of the day was spent in groups, discussing plans for 2016 and particular Regional Ambassador projects. Despite the early start for most of us, I think everyone left the Museum with a renewed sense of enthusiasm, motivation and optimism about what lies for the Holocaust Educational Trust and its Ambassador Programme.