IWM’s new Second World War and Holocaust Galleries

Caring for child refugees pamphlet

The Private View had the air of a simcha (celebration). Old friends – survivors and refugees, their children, Museum staff and advisers – greeted each other with huge affection, asking guiltily ‘Am I allowed to hug you? We sat and had tea in the vast foyer of the imposing Imperial War Museum in London and reminisced about the opening, by Her Majesty the Queen, of the IWM’s original Holocaust Exhibition twenty years previously. Remembering those who were no longer here to celebrate the IWM’s new Holocaust Galleries which open this week.

Then, up to the Second World War and Holocaust Galleries to see the new exhibition. Lighter and brighter than before, showing that the events of the Holocaust had taken place in plain sight. More accessible, less a memorial, easier to navigate.

Hidden Treasures is all about telling the Jewish story in Britain. The question ‘What has this all got to do with Britain?’ is answered directly with new display on the Kindertransport – whereby nearly 10,000 children were brought by train to safety  Britain, a measure that was intended to be temporary, but turned out to be permanent for most. Women allowed to come to Britain as domestics are also featured. This section is dedicated to Ernst and Tilde Fraenkel who came to England as refugees and were instrumental in the work of the Wiener Holocaust Library.

Particularly poignant in the display were Steffi Leyser’s glove puppet  and Ruth Neumeyer’s teddy which they brought to England. The children were not allowed to bring anything expensive so Ruth’s mother deliberately soaked her brand new dressing gown so that it would seem less desirable. There was a coat with a child’s name embroidered in it. It was several sizes too big – Otto Hutter’s father was unsure when they would be reunited with his son – and had bought it over-sized, in case it was a while until they saw each other again. Unfortunately it was never.

Unbearable, important, thought-provoking. Go and see the new Second World War Galleries at the Imperial War Museum.

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Hidden Treasures: Celebrating the documents, photos and artefacts in British archives that tell the story of Jews in Britain