The Holocaust Centre is a place of remembrance for the victims of the Holocaust and a place of education, challenge and reflection for people everywhere.
The Centre was founded in 1995 by brothers Stephen and James Smith.
In 1981, they and their parents went on a family holiday to Israel that would change their lives. There they began to understand a dimension of Christianity that many Christians missed – that Christianity began in that country, but today is far removed from its Jewish origins. They soon realised that contemporary antisemitism was as Christian as it was evil.
Ten years later, when they were in their early 20s, they spent a day at Yad Vashem, Jerusalem. There they realised that the Holocaust is not a Jewish problem. It is a problem for anyone brave enough to admit that the Holocaust has consequences for us all. They left Yad Vashem that day, knowing that they had to do something to bring the issues and challenges to their peers and to their country.
The Story of Beth Shalom
Because Britain was not occupied by the Nazis, the vast majority of British people had managed to avoid confronting the reality of the Holocaust. Stephen and James wanted to change this. They understood that the responsibility to question how and why the Holocaust occurred should be taken up equally by everyone. They decided to create an exhibition.
Stephen and James’s parents had long been running a small non-denominational Christian conference centre in the Nottinghamshire countryside. It was the perfect place. They initially thought that their Holocaust exhibition might occupy a few rooms, but it eventually became a memorial centre and museum in its own right. Their mother Marina, previously a teacher, would become the Centre’s Education Director for its first ten years.
Today, The Holocaust Centre works in partnership with people and organisations in government and across society in the UK and abroad. It provides education about the Holocaust and training for professionals. It has inspired similar centres in countries from Lithuania to South Africa. It is also home to the Aegis Trust, the genocide prevention organisation that emerged from its work, founded by the Smiths in 2000.
The Aegis Trust
Aegis coordinates the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Genocide Prevention in Westminster and is responsible for the Kigali Memorial Centre in Rwanda. It is also at the forefront of the international campaign to end the genocidal crisis in Darfur, Sudan. Aegis commemorates the victims of genocide, provides education about the results of divisive ideas, researches and campaigns about situations of potential genocide, and works to support survivors in need.
Kigali Memorial Centre
In 2003, Rwanda’s Minister of Culture and the Mayor of Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, visited the Holocaust Centre. The Mayor asked Aegis to create the Kigali Memorial Centre, then an empty shell, at a site where 250,000 victims of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide lie buried. Within a year, Aegis had raised the funds needed. The Kigali Memorial Centre opened on 7 April 2004, the tenth anniversary of the start of the genocide. Modeled in approach on The Holocaust Centre, it is a place of remembrance for survivors, learning for young people, and warning for world leaders. Visitors include a steady stream of international figures, among them George W Bush, Tony Blair, Ban Ki Moon and Bill Clinton.
In 2006, Aegis Students, an affiliate of the Aegis Trust, was launched as a university student-based movement committed to campaigning, educating and fundraising to end genocide. It now has a presence in over 20 UK universities and 7 Rwandan universities. Each new Aegis Society is formed autonomously by students but supported by a national executive committee.
Of the Berlin street: “At this point, I felt things really clicked into place and the children began to understand day-to-day life for Jews.” The carriage was engaging and poignant; children really got to see what happened in reality, but in a sensitive way.” “The home was atmospheric and children got a real feel for life in Germany in the 1930s.”