One Monday morning, early in February, I attended two assemblies with Ireland Primary School, but assemblies with a difference. These were on-line and the bulk of the pupils were in their kitchens or sitting-rooms with just a few in their home classrooms. It was wonderful, inspiring and emotional.
Together the 100 or so young people and I had been on an adventure, thinking about and writing poetry about the Holocaust, in recognition of Holocaust Memorial Day.
Usually I would work with two year 6 classes in the school hall but with the sterling help of Year 5 teachers Angie Georgeson and Amy Piensar,and Year 6 teachers Adrienne Amos and Nina Gayton, their classroom assistants, and probably parents somewhere in the background, we were able to involve more children than ever before.
Lead teacher Mrs. Amos and I had a long preliminary planning meeting on the phone and daily catch ups to make sure we were on track.
I made a series of short video clips beginning with an introduction to me as a writer, and then another talking about my indirect experience of the Holocaust, my father’s soldiering in the Second World War, a close friend’s loss of her grandparent’s families to the concentration camps and my visits to Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam and memorials to lost Jewish families in Berlin.
There were daily clips on how to write a poem, from first inspirations to second and third drafts, how to edit and get the best out of your writing; these little films produced on my mobile phone were very enjoyable to make.
And then there were the emails of poems via teaching staff, at different stages in their development, which stunned me with their quality.
In my hut
My eyes see the frozen windows,
Solomon is dead,
AUS DE HITTE!
HIERLANG JETZ SCHNELL!
The woods envelope us
Cold air hurts my teeth,
Machine guns chatter
“Compressed together so tightly, claustrophobia filling my lungs.
Why are we living this hell? My brother, my sisters and I, so young.’
‘I hope we’re not found, I hope we’re not caught, I hope we’re not taken
If we’re lucky we can escape the fight, but if we don’t
You must remember,
Remember all of the lost children.’
The whole project was a complete inspiration.