January 27th this year saw the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the largest and most notorious of all Nazi concentration camps. Every year on this day, countries across the world mark ‘Holocaust Memorial Day’ with events ranging from concerts, exhibitions, and political speeches to memorial events in schools, libraries, museums and synagogues.
The D-Day Story on Southsea’s seafront is the annual host of Portsmouth City Council’s commemorative events. The museum welcomes in the local Jewish community, delegates from the Council, the local MP and representatives of the major local faiths alongside the general public to mark the day with speeches and a minute’s silence.
For the second year running I contributed to the day with an exhibition of student work. Students from the third-year optional module Holocaust Literatures produce a creative group portfolio as part of their first assessment. This can come in the form and shape of a diary, a newspaper, or some other form of artwork. Visitors to the D-Day story can access the exhibits all day, and students on the module at that time can engage in detail with the work their peers have done in previous years.
This year, the event was particularly noteworthy as we welcomed a group of students from our partner institution University of Caen in Normandy. Under the guidance of their tutor, Dr Amy Wells, the 12 students had prepared some ‘digital’ exhibits, brief videos and vlogs that engaged with research they had done in archives in France, and that related in particularly emotive ways to the Holocaust. It was great to see the French students coming together with our own students from the module. Amy and I would really like to keep this collaboration going in the coming years – a particularly nice thought in the contemporary context of global ‘lockdown’ and closed borders due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The face-to-face delivery of ‘Holocaust Literatures’ was disrupted by the pandemic; but nevertheless students on the module managed to produce some fascinating and thought-provoking creative portfolios that I am already looking forward to displaying at the D-Day Story in January 2021.