Dame Helen Hyde: Learn to see early warning signs and take positive action

Dame Helen Hyde: Learn to see early warning signs and take positive action

Dame Helen Hyde, Headteacher, Watford Grammar School for Girls

Screen Shot 2015-01-23 at 11.54.38

Holocaust Education is embedded in our curriculum, taught overtly from year nine in the religious studies department and linked to Anne Frank, making it accessible to this age group.

Steven Frank, a survivor, and friend of the school, speaks to the whole year group about his experience in Theresienstadt.

The students look at their own prejudices and then move to studying Nazi prejudice and where it led. They study topics such as life before the Holocaust, perpetrators, bystanders, rescuers, resilience.

In year 10, students learn the historical narrative in history and many visit Amsterdam and the Anne Frank House. Drama students produced a play on Kojarzyć and to do so studied life in the Warsaw ghetto. They then visited Warsaw and Treblinka. Roman Halter spoke about his art to our A-level fine arts classes; the drama department produced a play about his life.

For the past seven years, the school has organised and hosted a Holocaust Conference. The 200 students of our lower sixthform attend, we invite local schools and the conference is also open to the public. Each year, I try to have a renowned Holocaust researcher or historian as the keynote speaker. Survivors talk to the students in groups, making the questions and answers a personal and moving experience.

Staff in different subject areas have received Holocaust training and run workshops at the conference.

Topics range from propaganda, historical perspectives, the geography of the Lodz ghetto, the perpetrators, the kindertransport and more.

The conference is important to the students because it asks them to listen, to learn, to reflect, and then to decide what action to take.

A colleague and I have been taking students to Holocaust related countries for many years; each group of 40 studies the events in the particular country (Germany, Hungary) and then visits Poland.

I have taken groups of adults on study tours to Poland: many adults know very little about the trauma and the enormity of the loss.

Why is it so important to teach about the Holocaust? Because we must never forget, we must learn to see early warning signs and to take positive action. We must study it because it helps to develop understanding of the ramifications and dangers of prejudice, racism and stereotyping in any society.

It helps us to think about the use and abuse of power, and the roles and responsibilities of individuals, organisations and nations. For me, this is a passion and a necessity. For years I could not speak about this and my father never told me much about the loss in our family. Eventually I contacted a surviving cousin and visited the sites in Amsterdam and Poland.

I have had the benefit of being trained by the Imperial War Museum and by London University. I am privileged to have survivors as my friends. It is my duty now to help them and take up the essential role of talking and teaching about the Holocaust, and our duty to teach the young and help them to try to understand it and try to prevent similar horrors.

read more: