Melbourne’s Jewish Holocaust Centre has used the digital boom during the coronavirus pandemic to reach more students than it ever has.
Jennifer Levitt Maxwell, the centre’s education engagement manager, said as soon as lockdown restrictions began, the Elsternwick museum closed and schools moved to remote learning, staff acted quickly to find solutions.
“We immediately started to think ‘how can we still continue to reach students and support teachers?'” she said.
“We know the Holocaust has a lot of complexities and can be challenging for teachers, and lockdown adds another layer of complexity, so we started to look at how we could transform our offering for online.”
The centre has made huge digital progress in just four months. It now offers virtual tours of the museum, a digital Ask a Survivor forum and online workshops with survivors for students all across Australia.
“The silver lining is we were really confined to the four walls in our museum and we see 23,000 students a year and we were at maximum capacity,” Ms Levitt Maxwell said.
“Now we can reach regional Victoria, reaching students who couldn’t afford to come and see us, reaching students in other states who don’t have access; that’s the most exciting element of what’s happened for us.”
Participating in the online project has also been a lifeline for survivors during the stress of the pandemic as Melbourne’s hard lockdown has triggered traumatic memories of isolation and being imprisoned or in hiding.
“It’s transformative for them right now; this is not an easy time for our survivors,” Ms Levitt Maxwell said.
Survivor Paul Grinwald, 87, and his family fled Nazi persecution in occupied France when he was a child, eventually migrating to Australia in 1946.
He finds it amazing he has now been able to share his story through a computer screen with students across the country.
“I’m happy that my message is going to remote places beyond Melbourne. Until recently we were speaking only with Victorian students,” he said. “I am very happy to answer questions from remote places. It’s a good thing that new technology means these students can now learn about the Holocaust.
“It should be known as widely as possible. It’s good for them to meet someone who has been through it.”
Holocaust education was made compulsory in February this year for year 9 and 10 state school students.
Education Minister James Merlino said this year: “It concerns me that if asked, most kids today wouldn’t be able to explain what the Holocaust was. Anti-Semitism is on the rise around the globe and sadly we are not immune in our own Victorian community.
“It is vital that each generation understands the horror of the Holocaust to ensure it can never be repeated and to educate the community on the damage caused by anti-Semitism, racism and prejudice.
“This is about using this terrible historical event to talk to students and educate them about the broader issues of racism and prejudice in our society.”
Anna is an education reporter at The Age.