The Real Inglorious Bastards

Tonight on the Military History Channel (Sky 531 and Virgin 236) is The Real Inglorious – a gripping look at the incredible dangers faced by the  Jewish spies behind Operation Greenup, one of the US’s most successful intelligence-gathering operations of World War II.

Greenup was an American OSS opertation, involving three young agents who were air-dropped into the Austrian Alps in the closing months of World War II. Their mission was to gather intelligence on Nazi activities in the Innsbruck area.  The agents included two recently naturalized OSS enlisted men and an Austrian-born Wehrmacht officer who had deserted and then volunteered for this assignment.

The men of Operation Greenup, courtesy

The men of Operation Greenup, courtesy

Franz Weber, the former German officer, was selected to join the team to take advantage of his personal contacts and knowledge of the area. Born in Oberperfuss, near Innsbruck, he had numerous relatives and acquaintances nearby. He proved quite effective in obtaining transportation and getting the team into safe houses. Hans Wynberg, a Dutch-American, was assigned to the team as the radio operator.

The team leader, Frederick Mayer, became a very effective spy, obtaining very detailed and reliable information about German industry, transportation nodes, and even specific locations of Nazi leadership. As a result, many of the industrial and transportation installations described by Mayer were destroyed by strategic bombing.

Both Wynberg and Mayer were Jewish, a fact that makes this story all the more fascinating. Although he and a brother had been sent from Holland to America in 1939, Wynberg’s parents and remaining brother were killed in Auschwitz. Mayer’s family (including his father, who had been decorated with the Iron Cross in the First World War) had managed to leave an increasingly hostile Germany before the outbreak of war, in 1938.

Mayer was quite a risk taker, assuming the identity of a German officer and later transforming himself into a French electrician working in a German military plant. His luck ran out when he was captured by the Gestapo. Mayer successfully withstood the interrogation and beatings without divulging the names and locations of his fellow agents. Fortunately for him, the thousand-year Reich began to fall apart rapidly. The US Army’s 103d Infantry Division was closing in to striking distance of Innsbruck. In an interesting role reversal, the Gestapo agents and local Nazi officials began to be concerned for their own well-being. A deal was struck with local Nazi leaders that allowed Mayer to meet oncoming US Army forces and coordinate the surrender of Innsbruck.

Further reading:

The Real Inglorious Bastards website

The Real Inglourious Basterds: Why Britain’s secret Jewish commandos were far more heroic than the Nazi scalpers in Tarantino’s new film (The Daily Mail)

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Reflections – #HMD2013

There were many, many excellent articles, tweets and Facebook posts relating to #HMD2013 and it’s definitely reassuring to see that after so many years, HMD is still resonating with people from all walks of life, of all ages and from all over the UK and beyond.

In the days leading up to and following on from HMD, there is usually a mini-plethora of articles in the national media. This year, the Sunday Times Magazine ran an article on David Irving and his claim that “perhaps it’s something different in their brains” – referring to Irving’s explanation as to why Jews have been targets of hatred and violence over the years. Although the article was interesting, it failed to reach any conclusions or judgement on Irving, beyond repeating the assertion that he is an antisemite (in spite of his claims to the contrary). I am still on the fence as to whether it is wise to give this ridiculous man the publicity he obviously craves. I am not sure whether this was the best choice of topic to appear in the paper on HMD.

So we move away from words and towards pictures.

A Facebook friend of mine posted the following graphic on her page that spoke volumes to me and is a great example of how images can communicate so much about a complex subject.

Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day 5772 (2011)  © Yad Vashem

Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day 5772 (2011)
© Yad Vashem

It is a very evocative image and I think it has great potential in the classroom.

When I was in Krakow in 2007, I took the following photograph:

Picture 8

The similarities between these two images struck me straight away.

I took this photograph on a cold but sunny October afternoon in Krakow. I was with a group of educators on the IWM Fellowship at Plac Bohaterow Getta (The Ghetto Heroes’ Square) and as I caught sight of our shadow I felt the undeniably human aspect of the tragedy that took place in that city.

Plac Bohaterow Getta, KrakowGhetto Heroes' Square

Plac Bohaterow Getta, Krakow
Ghetto Heroes’ Square

These images could be used as a prompt for a starter activity on any number of themes (of loss, people, communities, organisation, responsibility, memorial) in PSHE, Citizenship, RE or pastoral class time.

Resources will appear here shortly.

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Holocaust Memorial Day #HMD2013

Today is 27th January 2013 – Holocaust Memorial Day in many countries. In the UK we explore the Holocaust and subsequent genocides and the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust issues an annual theme that helps teachers and community leaders to continue to be creative in their approach to HMD, according to their demographic.

This year’s theme is Communities Together: Build a Bridge – a theme that encompasses a key aim of Holocaust education throughout the world: to develop  an understanding of the roots and ramifications of prejudice, racism and stereotyping in society. The excellent short film, Lesson Learnt (below) sums up the importance of this particular aspect of holocaust education.

There are a number of reasons why we teach about the Holocaust. The reasons listed below appeared in the Institute of Education Report (2010) into Holocaust Education and were all responses by teachers across a variety of school subjects. The reasons included:

  • To learn the lessons of the Holocaust and to ensure that a similar human atrocity never happens again
  • To explore the roles and responsibilities of individuals, organization and governments
  • To reflect upon questions about power/abuse of power, raised by the Holocaust
  • To deepen knowledge of the Second World War and C20th history
  • To explore the implications of remaining silent/indifferent in the face of oppression
  • To reflect upon moral/ethical questions
  • To preserve the memory of those who suffered
  • To understand and explain the actions of people involved in and affected by an unprecedented historical events

The first of these reasons is admirable as an aim, but we should recognise that such  atrocities have indeed happened again since the Holocaust in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur. Of course there are numerous other conflicts and human rights abuses that are not considered genocides but nonetheless demonstrate that we have not yet learned the lessons of the Holocaust.

As teachers we need to ask ourselves what our own intentions and objectives are when we begin to teach about the Holocaust. What do we want to achieve? What can we realistically achieve in the often limited time we have to study this complex topic?

Looking at individual stories can humanise the often overwhelming statistics that  fill text and reference books. Many survivors came to Britain eventually and you might be able to find the testimony of a survivor who settled in your part of the country (especially if you are in or around London, Leeds or Manchester). Personal stories often show how much luck was involved in survival – and they also span the whole 5 years of the war and so can be looked at in parallel to a chronology of the war to enable students to examine how the events of the war may have impacted on civilians. Of course, personal stories also emphasise how ordinary people became victims, perpetrators, rescuers, collaborators or bystanders – or a combination of a number of these, depending on their circumstances at a given time.

Useful links:

Holocaust Memorial Day Trust –

The British Library –

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum –

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An inspiring speaker

Christer Mattsson

Christer Mattsson

Whilst I was studying on the Imperial War Museum fellowship back in 2006-7, I was privileged to participate in a couple of workshops and lectures by Christer Mattsson. Christer has worked for many years in Sweden with young people at risk of developing radical right wing views and participating in extremist groups. Many of these children and teenagers come from families that hold such views and so you can perhaps imagine how sensitive and challenging it must be to work with such young people towards creating a more tolerant and understanding world-view.

Christer recently gave this TEDtalk, which I found to be in his typical raconteuring style both entertaining, informative and touching. I hope you find it interesting and perhaps inspiring in the run up to Holocaust Memorial Day 2013.

Christer Mattson at TEDxSödravägenTEDxSödravägen.

“It’s not only ideas that form us. It is the people that surrounds us that acknowledge our action that makes us become what we are.”

(Christer Mattsson)

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Rescues of the Holocaust

The Wiener Library and Facing History and Ourselves present a workshop for teachers: Rescues of the Holocaust

A workshop for teachers led by Toby Simpson from the Wiener Library
and Michael McIntyre from Facing History and Ourselves will take place on Wednesday 5th December, from 1.30 pm to 5pm and the Wiener Library, Russell Square, London.

This workshop offers an exciting opportunity to examine the issue of rescue in the Holocaust in the context of the Wiener Library’s special exhibition about this subject currently being shown. You will

  • have a tour of the exhibition
  • receive detailed resources and effective teaching strategies to help you teach this important subject in the classroom
  • have an opportunity to reflect on the principles that underpinned, and the challenges that could prevent, rescue in the Holocaust
  • be able to take part in a more general discussion about altruism today
  • receive advice about how the Wiener Library can be useful more generally in your work
  • receive advice about  Facing History can help your professional development

The workshop will be of particular interest to teachers of history, RE, citizenship and philosophy for children.

The workshop is free of charge but registration is necessary. To register for this workshop please go to

For more information about Facing History and Ourselves in London please contact or go to

For the work of the Wiener Library contact

After the workshop there will be an opportunity to attend a lecture about Survivors: Rescue in Western Europe given by Bob Moore of the University of Sheffield, and this will take place between 6.30pm and 8.00pm at the Wiener Library

Refreshments will be served during the afternoon.

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Holocaust Survivors’ Conference

The Fifth Annual Holocaust Survivors’ Conference will take place at Watford Girls’ Grammar School on Thursday November 8th 2012.

This excellent day of talks and workshops is for sixth form students and teachers alike.

Photographing the Holocaust by Janina Struk – an excellent book covering origin and use of a wide range of Holocaust photographs.
Highly recommended reading.

The morning speaker is Janina Struk, author of Photographing the Holocaust: Interpretations of the Evidence, (2004) and Private Pictures: Soldiers’ Inside View of War, (2011).

Janina’s talk focuses on Images of the ghettos and Interpretations of the photographic evidence, giving students and teachers a fascinating insight into the provenance and purpose of many Holocaust photographs. Questions that all students should be asking themselves when presented with photographic evidence, such as “Who took this photograph and why?” will be thoroughly addressed in this talk. Students will have the opportunity to look at photographs taken by perpetrators and victims and consider the different uses, implications and representations of the Holocaust that they provide.

The afternoon speaker will be Jane Redmond of the Anne Frank House, who will talk on the subject of Holland and the Holocaust. Apart from the story and experiences of Anne Frank herself, the Netherlands is often overlooked as students focus on Germany, Poland and even France when looking at experiences of the Holocaust. Less than 25% of Dutch Jewry survived the Holocaust and so Jane’s talk promises to significantly broaden students’ understanding.

As the name of this event suggests, there will also be a number of survivors who will talk about their own experiences during the Holocaust. Now almost 70 years after the end of the war, the opportunity to listen to a survivor recount their own story is becoming an increasingly rare event, and one that always leaves a deep and lasting impression.

There are thirteen workshops that will run on the day, relevant to a wide range of subjects. These include Literature of the Holocaust, Holocaust Historical Interpretations, Art and Holocaust, Holocaust and Modern Genocides and  Holocaust in Drama and Film.

For full details of workshops and talks and how to purchase tickets (£5) you can download the flyer here.

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Life before the Holocaust

One aspect of Holocaust Education that I have tried to expand and develop in the schools I have worked in is Jewish life in pre-war Europe.

Yesterday I was lucky enough to be invited to the relaunch of the excellent education DVD The Way We Lived at the Imperial War Museum. The DVD, which is being distributed free to schools who have visited/will be visiting the IWM Holocaust Exhibition, includes an updated version of The Way We Lived and a new, 12 minute segment on antisemitism. Rachel Donnelly, Holocaust Education Officer at IWM and Paul Salmons from the Institute of Education both spoke about how pre-war Jewish life is often passed over by teachers who are so often teaching the Holocaust with massive time restrictions. They reinforced the importance of developing students’ knowledge and understanding of who the Jews of Europe were before the war, in order that they are able to fully appreciate what was lost in the Holocaust. I believe this is an incredibly valuable resource that will help teachers bring this important aspect of understanding the Holocaust into their teaching.
Some text books, notably the SHP Holocaust KS3 text book, contain some excellent sources and activities on pre-war Jewish life in Europe and I have worked on a mapping exercise with the Imperial War Museum North that is going to be a part of their teacher training programme. Unfortunately for copyright reasons I cannot reproduce that here but have I have developed a Power Point presentation that sets up an activity that uses photographs and students’ source interpretation skills to build up a picture of the variety and breadth of Jewish life in Europe prior to 1939. You can adapt this task with photographs from text books or you can go online to the excellent Yad Vashem and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum photographic archives where you have many photographs to choose from.

Having seen the The Way We Lived DVD, I will be developing some resources to be used alongside it that will go up on this blog’s Resources Page. In the meantime, if you are a teacher who has visited the Holocaust Exhibition and would like a copy of the DVD, please email Rachel Donnelly directly at

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