Interpreting the Unthinkable

The memorial to the victims at Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp in Germany

I recently finished one of the most challenging assignments of my professional career - curating and project managing the UK's newest exhibition about the Holocaust. Entitled 'Through Our Eyes', the exhibition tells the story of the Holocaust through the witness testimony, documents, records and artefacts of 16 Jewish men and women who experienced it first hand and later made new lives in Yorkshire. 


Curating the exhibition brought with it all the usual project management challenges of timescale, budget, quality, and managing the expectations of the many stakeholder groups. Yet the Holocaust as a subject has its own unique challenges that are not matched by any of the other topics I've worked on in a long and varied interpretation career. The subject is vast, taking the whole continent of Europe and a lengthy timespan. It is within living memory, which brings with it a particular kind of responsibility to those whose stories we aimed to tell, and their families for whom this is not history but a generational trauma that continues to shape their lives. It has political resonance for the present - this is true of any historical subject, but has been particularly so with the Holocaust and particularly now given the rise of Far Right political ideologies once again across Europe and beyond. And perhaps because of this, and the antisemitism that is inseperable from extremist mindsets, I can't think of many topics in history that attract the same level of denial and distortion.


All of these issues presented a unique challenge for the curatorial and design team working within the inevitable constraints of time, budget, availability of collections, and space. I addressed some of these questions in a blog for British Online Archives which you can read here