Founders receive triple award
August 3rd, 2010
Nottingham Trent University has made a rare triple award for a remarkable family, giving honorary doctorates to James, Stephen and their mother Marina Smith who in 1995 founded the UK’s first Holocaust memorial and education centre.
Since opening, The Holocaust Centre has received hundreds of thousands of visitors, most of them schoolchildren visiting as part of their education about the Holocaust. Every visiting group is met by a survivor of the Holocaust; many of them based in the Midlands, several in Nottingham or the surrounding area. Home to the Aegis Trust for genocide prevention – which was also founded by the Smiths, to help prevent such crimes against humanity happening anywhere to anyone – The Holocaust Centre has also given international inspiration, providing a model for the Cape Town Holocaust Centre in South Africa, the House of Memory in Lithuania, and the Genocide Memorial in Rwanda’s capital city, Kigali. Contracted by Kigali City Council, the Aegis Trust runs the memorial centre and was responsible for its creation in 2004.
Strong links with Nottingham Trent University
Aegis also has strong links with Nottingham and indeed with Nottingham Trent University through its youth arm, Aegis Students. Nottingham Trent University is home to a thriving Aegis Society, former members of which recently opened ‘The Charity Shop’ on Goosegate in Nottingham to support Aegis’ work.
Back at The Holocaust Centre, in 2008 the Smiths opened a ground-breaking new permanent exhibition about the experience of children during the Holocaust. Winning ‘Best Exhibition’ at the 2009 Nottinghamshire Heritage Awards, it is unusual as a Holocaust exhibition designed to be accessible to children at primary school age. Much of its content focuses on the ‘Kindertransport’ – the 10,000 Jewish children from Nazi Germany and Nazi-occupied territories allowed into the UK as refugees without their parents in 1938-39. Primary schools now visit the exhibition on a daily basis.
“We’re thrilled to be sharing this award, which celebrates not only the work of The Holocaust Centre and Aegis Trust but also the strong ties we have with Nottingham, Nottingham Trent University and the whole local community,” says Dr James Smith, Chairman of The Holocaust Centre and Chief Executive of the Aegis Trust. “It recognises, too, that the creation of The Holocaust Centre was a family effort. We could not have done this without each other, without the generosity of our supporters, nor without the family of survivors who give of themselves and their experiences to help educate a new generation about the dangers of prejudice and ideas that can divide a society.”
The Kindertransport: a connection shared with Attenborough and Dench
Stephen, now Executive Director of the Shoah Foundation in Los Angeles, was unable to attend the ceremony but James and Marina, who worked as The Holocaust Centre’s Education Director for its first ten years, joined others at Nottingham Trent University receiving honorary degrees last week. They included Dame Judi Dench – who in 2000 narrated ‘Into the Arms of Strangers’, a documentary about the Kindertransport – and Sir David Attenborough, whose parents actually took in two Jewish girls rescued from the Nazis as part of the initiative. “They were just like our sisters,” Sir David recalled in The Times in 2008. Commenting in the piece his brother Richard stated, “It gave me an understanding of what it was to be Jewish, and taught me to loathe prejudice and persecution … I would never have been interested in making both Gandhi and Cry Freedom without that experience.”
Today, thanks to the Smiths, Notts residents also have the opportunity to meet survivors of the Holocaust, learn about their experiences, and reflect on the lessons this history holds for the future.