A Huddersfield heritage centre is helping visitors to think differently about its collections by producing a guide to what isn’t there.
Holocaust Centre North (HCN) has created an audio guide to its permanent exhibition that bring back to life the memories of the survivors who started again in the north of England after fleeing Nazi persecution.
And, while conventional exhibition guides focus on objects that can be found on display, this unusual sound-based roadmap encourages people to reflect on the losses and absence felt by survivors and their families.
Called Encountering Survival, the guide is a series of 10 individual tracks including interviews with survivors and their families. By exploring the memories of beloved objects, long-lost homes and familiar smells, the Centre hopes listeners will make connections with the stories of forced migration, trauma, loss and persecution.
The guide was created by artists Louise K Wilson and Linda O Keeffe as part of the Second World War and Holocaust Partnership Project, led by Imperial War Museum and supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
It features voices selected from the Centre’s archives, as well as new interviews with Leeds-based survivors and their families, including Trude Silman.
Trude, 93, recalls a painting in an ornate frame that hung in her childhood home in Bratislava, then part of Czechoslovakia. Her family concealed the picture on a farm to protect it from Nazi soldiers, who looted many works of art owned by Jewish people. A family heirloom, it was rescued after the war and is now hanging in the Harrogate home of her daughter Judith.
Liesel Carter shares her memories of leaving Germany on a boat at the age of four with her favourite teddy bear, the only toy she was able to bring. The toy was later destroyed by cousins who deemed her too old to play with soft toys.
The chilling experience of being pushed under the bed by her mother and hearing the heavy footsteps of the Gestapo coming up wooden and breaking the door with an axe is recounted by Suzanne Ripton. She goes on to describe the smell of her grandfather’s long, white beard as she gave him a final hug before escaping France with her mother.
Linda O Keeffe, artist and co-creator of the audio guide, said: “To empathise with someone’s pain in war, you just have to understand a tiny moment of what it can do to your life and feel that pain.
“When you hear someone describe the smell of their grandad’s beard, knowing it was the last time they would see them, you understand more about what it would be like to look at a person you love and have to say goodbye for the last time.”
Paula Kolar, curator of contemporary practices, Holocaust Centre North, which is situated on the University of Huddersfield Queensgate Campus, said: “The survivor community now includes children and grandchildren, all of whom we have a very strong connection with and responsibility to.
“It’s very important to acknowledge the significance of what it means to remember over the course of a lifetime and the continuing impact on families in the area. With the audio guide, we have been able to create a tangible way to give space to the intangible and honour these experiences.”
Holocaust Centre North director Alessandro Bucci said: “Collecting, preserving, caring for and sharing the stories from the northern community of Holocaust survivors and their families is our primary objective at HCN.
“We have a collection of over 6,000 items but we are aware of so much that cannot be preserved for posterity, either because it was lost, destroyed, stolen or left behind, or because it is immaterial and can’t be cared for in an archive.
“Memories, feelings of a mood at a certain time, the sound or smell of something. This audio guide focuses on this aspect – the stories behind what is absent.”
“The nature of our topic can be difficult for some visitors to process in one sitting and this is why we wanted our audio guide to be something that visitors can take home with them and listen to in their own time.”The ten tracks, which are between four and 13 minutes in length, are also available to listen to online at https://audioguides.hcn.org.uk/, with accompanying visuals by artist Aous Hamoud.