Three years ago I was with a talented group of young people all volunteering for the Holocaust Educational Trust. We had travelled to Washington DC for a week of extra study and as our time in America drew to a close, our thoughts turned to the Holocaust Commission. This group of esteemed historians, personalities and politicians was preparing to write a report about how the United Kingdom could continue to teach the Holocaust and preserve the memory of those who suffered so terribly at the hands of National Socialism.
Currently, there is a memorial in Hyde Park to victims, though I have no idea where. It is a lump of rock, no distinguishing features and easy to walk past. There is, of course, the excellent permanent exhibition at the Imperial War Museum, but this is where accessible Holocaust remembrance ends.
I can remember it vividly. The group was sitting scattered around a Georgetown University halls of residence common room, debating what we thought the Commission should be pushing for. After an hour or so of discussion, we all agreed on the following:
- A permanent Holocaust Museum
- A learning centre so that documents, resources, testimonies could be saved and shared forever
- A new memorial, visible, accessible
- A fund to help teach Holocaust studies, pay for students to visit Auschwitz and provide teachers with the resources they need amongst other things
The following year, the Prime Minister David Cameron announced what UK Government would do to ensure this period of history would never be forgotten.
Sure enough, our recommendations (not solely our ideas, of course, many others had thought of these and written to the Commission) were publicly adopted. Amazing!
So what has happened since then?
The United Kingdom Holocaust Memorial Foundation has been created as a vehicle to move forward these projects. A piece of land has been found (Victoria Tower Gardens - next to Parliament), invitations to tender sent out and designs for the museum received.
The final 10 designs are now being shown at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
I went a couple of weeks ago to have a look at them. Firstly, I was delighted to see so many people at the exhibition. Most of them were probably foreign tourists visiting the museum as a whole, but anything that engages people in Holocaust history is good for me.
You can view my favourite design here. The architects have also been kind enough to link back to the other designs.
I think Diamond Schmitt have presented the best design for a number of reasons, including:
It's a beautiful design that stands out so as to be attractive to passers by, but not obviously at odds to the way the environment looks now. The issue being tackled here that other designs miss, is that we need to draw in visitors that might not necessarily have a trip to a Holocaust musuem in mind. The above ground structure is beautiful, but not invasive on the eye or indeed the environment.
The design brings a combination of light and darkness, reflecting the many components of Holocaust history and of course, the way one feels when listening to survivors and exploring the subject.
What worries me about this project as a whole, is the dreaded planning permission! Local people are not at all keen to rip up part of the public gardens. It has nothing to do with the subject matter, but everything to do with access to this green space.
Visually and practically, I feel this design keeps the open sense to the gardens and, I think it has a better chance of getting planning permission from Westminster City Council.
For more information about the project and the designs, click here