The Holocaust remains one of the most harrowing and shocking events of the 20th century, and telling a story like that requires sensitivity and a great deal of skill. With an ever decreasing numbers of survivors, the need to preserve the testimonies of those who did survive becomes even more acutely important.
The murder of six million Jewish men, women and children at the hands of the Nazis during WW2 remains a stain on humanity almost 75 years after the concentration camps across Europe were liberated. Nevertheless, since 1945 the scale and horror of the atrocity has dulled for many.
The Holocaust Survivors’ Friendship Association (HSFA), based in Yorkshire, appointed PLB Projects as lead contractor for the development of a new, purpose-built, permanent Holocaust Exhibition and Learning Centre at the University of Huddersfield.
Using funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, private donations and additional gifts from other partner groups including Pears Foundation; the Association of Jewish Refugees; the Toni Schiff Memorial Fund; and the Wolfson Family Trust, the HSFA’s aim was to create a permanent resource to provide a unique insight into the Holocaust from the perspective of the survivors.
The HSFA has spent the last 20 years using personal testimony to share Holocaust stories with local schools and community groups. As the survivors age and become less able to travel, the need for a permanent resource to protect their legacy became increasingly acute. The need to remember the Holocaust, the societal conditions that allowed it to happen and the personal stories of those affected becomes more acute as the memory of the reality fades.
The HSFA chose PLB Projects for our background working with complex and difficult histories, our experience creating compelling content using personal stories and testimony, and our track record for creating exhibitions that connect historical events with contemporary relevance. We commissioned and worked with industry leading experts in digital media and sound design to deliver the vision for the exhibition.
The result is the newly opened Holocaust Exhibition and Learning Centre at the University of Huddersfield. It provides education about the Holocaust using the testimony, records and artefacts of 16 men and women who made their homes in Yorkshire as refugees of Nazism or survivors of the Holocaust after 1945.
The space includes a 300 square metre exhibition space as well as an events and conference space and a learning room with facilities for school and community education.
The permanent exhibition features video, audio, still images and interpretation as well as an immersive film with an original soundtrack based on survivor testimony. The exhibition draws on the charity’s collection of Holocaust survivor interviews, photographs and original objects and documents which are stored in the University’s archive service at Heritage Quay.
The exhibition gives visitors the opportunity to “meet” the 16 survivors, watch their video testimony and identify with individuals while understanding the background and context of the Holocaust.
The design team’s main challenge was to ensure visitors are able to see the individuals behind the overwhelming statistics by integrating the personal stories with the overarching historical narrative. The solution was to invest in touch screen technology and directional audio speakers so that survivors’ voices are heard throughout the exhibition.
Survivor quotes feature on text panels to highlight how persecution and discrimination impacted on individual families. Animated maps individualise the survivors’ journeys, personalising the geographical facts and highlighting the vast geographical extent of the Holocaust.
Emma King, Director of the Centre, said: “Since we opened the Holocaust Exhibition & Learning Centre last September, feedback has been fantastic. Visitors find the content moving and compelling and appreciate the clear, easy to navigate design.”
She went on to say, “PLB showed great empathy and sensitivity, both for the subject matter and for our many stakeholders in working with us to create the only Holocaust exhibition in the north of England. I am very proud of what the team has achieved.”
The Holocaust Exhibition and Learning Centre is open from Monday to Thursday, 10am – 5pm, and Friday 10am – 1pm in the Schwann Building at Huddersfield University. There is a programme of events on selected Sundays.