In their own words: How Jewish wartime refugees rebuilt their lives in Scotland

25 January 2013

In their own words: How Jewish wartime refugees rebuilt their lives in Scotland

Angela Shapiro

When Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) academic Angela Shapiro and schoolteacher Claire Singerman decided to record the reminiscences of Holocaust survivors who had re-established their lives in Scotland, they had no idea of the extent of recognition the project would receive nationally and internationally.

Now, run by a committee including Angela, Claire and four other volunteers, the Gathering the Voices project in partnership with GCU has attracted funding from a number of organisations, most recently more than £45,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund and £10,000 from local Jewish Charitable Trusts.

The testimonies, which can be accessed via the Gathering the Voices website, has been praised by the Scottish Parliament. Presently there are seven testimonies on the website and the intention is to have thirty in all. The project organisers will be working with Scottish teachers to develop teaching packs based on the interviews for use as part of the Curriculum for Excellence, in conjunction with Sense Over Sectarianism.

The British Library has decided to include Gathering the Voices on their digital archive and so it will exist in perpetuity. The European Holocaust Infrastructure, which described the website as ‘‘a positive example of a small community’s attempt to preserve oral history before it is lost’’, will link the site to their portal, securing a global audience.

GCU will store the audio files in their Spoken Word repository. The complete interviews will be kept at the Scottish Jewish Archives Centre, where they will be available to schools and councils for events such as National Holocaust Memorial Day, and for research.

The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland will be working with school pupils delivering music and drama projects, using a children’s book ‘In My Pocket’ by Dorrith Sim as a catalyst for creativity. A travelling exhibition based on the interviews will travel around schools and small communities, and it will also be displayed in Glasgow Museums during the 2014 Commonwealth Games, and in the Scottish Parliament.

Angela Shapiro, Academic Development Tutor at GCU’s School of Engineering and Built Environment, said: “The idea for Gathering the Voices came from listening to my mother-in-law Gretl Shapiro, who came to Scotland from Vienna on the Kindertransport. Like all the people we interviewed, she wanted to be remembered as a productive member of Scottish society, rather than merely as a victim of persecution.

“We passionately believe that we need to preserve these first hand accounts so that we can educate future generations. The testimonies show us that the survivors were ordinary people who coped with extraordinarily difficult circumstances. In spite of this, they remained positive individuals who went on to make significant contributions to our society. Their accounts are very relevant to the challenges and opportunities facing today’s refugees.”

A design competition to produce materials for the website will take place with students from educational partners GCU, Cardonald College and Glasgow City College. Riverside Studios are teaching their students how to edit the interviews. Students from across Scotland will come together at GCU to take part in the 2013 Scottish Games Jam – a design challenge in which aspiring programmers and designers will be asked to work over a weekend, around the clock, to create an educational game to support the project.

The Gathering the Voices Committee and GCU are proud that they have preserved and made freely available these unique and inspiring testimonies. Visit Gathering the Voices to access the testimonies of Jewish wartime refugees.


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