Genocide, through our eyes

Posted on: 27 Jan 2016

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day. Andy Lawrence, History Teacher at Hampton School, writes about his school's student campaign group set up to raise awareness about genocide.

January 27 2016 marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day, when the world remembers the victims of the Holocaust during World War II. Six million Jews were murdered by Germany's Nazi regime, along with 5 million non-Jews who were killed. Sadly there have been further genocides in recent times, which are in danger of being forgotten about.

Eighty one percent of secondary school students are unable to name a genocide that has occurred since the Holocaust. This is the stark statistic discovered by student campaign group, Genocide, through our eyes.

The campaign group was set up by pupils from Hampton School and 14 other independent and state schools across the UK who decided to come together to raise awareness about genocide. Their first act was to survey more than 800 of their peers to establish what their age group knows about this terrible crime - the results were concerning:

  • Only 51% of 11-16 year olds could define the term genocide
  • Only 13% could name the genocide in Rwanda, 5% named the genocide in Cambodia, 5% named the genocide in Bosnia and only 2% were aware of the ongoing genocide in Darfur

Genocide, through our eyes also discovered that there are no textbooks about genocide written for their age group and so they decided to write one of their own to be sent to all schools across the UK.

The book, which will be completed this spring, includes interviews by survivors, academics and journalists who all witnessed the terrible atrocities that have marred recent decades and continue even today. Listening to the life-stories of remarkable people like Sokphal Din, a survivor of the genocide in Cambodia, Safet Vukalic who survived the atrocities in Bosnia and Sophie Masereka and Eric Murangwa who escaped the killings in Rwanda, has made an indelible impression and hardened the resolve of the students to make a difference.

Pupils from Acklam Grange School, Middlesbrough, who will deliver a copy of the book to No. 10 Downing Street on behalf of the whole team, said they wanted to "break down the barriers of genocide". Similarly, children from Sandbach High School in Cheshire said their aim was to "open young people's eyes towards an issue too many are blind to." At The Hermitage Academy, Durham, students hoped more knowledge could help prevent future genocides.

The book is illustrated with remarkable pictures drawn by Darfuri children which recount their terrible experiences.

The young campaigners who set up Genocide, through our eyes have received widespread praise:

Paul Salmons, Programme Director at UCL’s Centre for Holocaust Education and one of the leading experts in Holocaust education in the UK said that

"The young people involved in this extraordinary project have taken on a hugely ambitious task. Their work is vital - without improved knowledge and understanding, how else will we better recognise the warning signs of approaching genocide and the possibilities for intervention and prevention? In committing themselves to this task, these young people do more than 'remember' the victims of the past - they honour them through actions designed to prevent further victims of such crimes in the future."

Olivia Marks-Woldman, chief Executive of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, congratulated the students for their "important survey of young people's awareness of genocide", as they had "refused to stand by and are determined to raise awareness of genocide".

The recent report on Holocaust Education published by the Commons Education Select Committee stated that teachers should have greater access to high quality training on how to teach about the Holocaust. Perhaps a starting point to help with lessons on other genocides would be to look at the book created by the students from London, Kent, Stirling, Hertfordshire, Lancashire, Durham, Norfolk, Dorset and Falkirk.

The last word should go to James, a year 13 student at Hampton School and a project leader, who concluded:

"I used to think that, after the Holocaust, 'Never Again' meant exactly that. It didn't. If we are to prevent future genocides we have to learn from the mistakes that we always seem to repeat."


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