Katy Jackson is the community and outreach officer at the Wiener Library

Q&A with Katy Jackson

Geraldine Kendall, 27.01.2015
The Wiener Library's plans for commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day
This year’s Holocaust Memorial Day, which is taking place today, also marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.

As the world’s oldest institution devoted to the study of the Holocaust, the Wiener Library in London will be commemorating the anniversary with a wide range of events, including object handling sessions and a debate for young people that asks: “How useful is social media for keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive?”

Museums Journal spoke to Katy Jackson, the Wiener Library’s community and outreach officer, to find out more about its commemoration plans.

What kind of artefacts will you be using in the object handling sessions? How important are collections in helping people understand more about genocide?

We’re co-hosting our Holocaust Memorial Day object handling sessions with the Jewish Museum London and they will focus on the lives of two people: Hans Jackson, a Jewish refugee who escaped persecution and was housed in the Kitchener Camp for refugees in Sandwich from 1938-40; and Lore Freudenthal who escaped to Britain on the Kindertransport and went on to become an accomplished artist. We’ll be looking at artefacts which were of sentimental importance to these two people.

Objects from the time are pivotal for helping people understand what happened during the Holocaust because an audience can directly relate to them. They are everyday items that you or I might own: a spice box or a pencil case. While the number of 6 million can be incomprehensible, showing the items of individuals who experienced persecution shows that they were real people. They allow us a glimpse into a person’s life, their interests and personality.

The purpose of showing objects is to encourage an audience to enquire, interpret and be challenged. Staff from both the Wiener Library and the Jewish Museum will guide the audience through the history of this period and help them to open their minds. 

How will interpretation of the Holocaust need to change as the genocide moves further into the past and eyewitnesses grow fewer in number?

As the survivor generation passes on, collections of evidence such as those that the Wiener Library holds will become ever more important.

We await the announcements from the prime minister’s Holocaust Commission on Holocaust Memorial Day, which will outline the future of Holocaust education and commemoration in the UK. I’d argue that the Holocaust is unlikely to be consigned to the history books any time soon.

This year’s anniversary comes at a time when there is a greater spotlight on anti-Semitism and tensions between communities – what role can cultural institutions like the Wiener Library play in helping to combat this?

The Wiener Library exists as the evidence of what can occur when hate spreads. It was founded by Alfred Wiener in 1933, to document the persecution of Jewish people by the Nazis in Europe. Wiener had incredible foresight; in the early 1920s he had recognised how violent anti-Semitism could become fatal.

We reach out to people of all backgrounds and all levels of subject knowledge. Our archives, exhibitions, events and educational programmes are free and accessible to all. We hope that the supportive environment of the Wiener Library can help to open minds, facilitate and encourage learning, and promote dialogue between and within communities.

What kind of discussions do you expect to hear in the debate you’re hosting on how useful social media is for keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive?

We’ll begin the debate by discussing definitions – what do we mean by "the memory of the Holocaust"? We’ll talk about how social media can be used to commemorate, and also to shape, memory itself. I expect to hear discussions about what happens when the survivor generation are no longer with us and how social media could be harnessed for Holocaust education and social action.

I also expect to hear debate about how appropriate certain social media platforms are for education or encouraging action, particularly with reference to the stop-motion Lego animation films on Youtube.

We’ve seen the Holocaust Educational Trust launch an app, and the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust launch an online art project, #MemoryMakers, in the past few days, so we will also discuss these. I’m looking forward to a lively debate.

Follow the debate on Twitter #WLdebate