Engaging Young Black B with the Relevance of The Holocaust

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: School of Modern Languages and Cultures


This programme of knowledge exchange, co-production, and public outreach draws on the findings of the AHRC major research project 'From Perpetrators to Victims? Discourses of German Wartime Suffering' (2005-2008). In that project, Taberner and Cooke established a more nuanced narrative of the German experience of confronting the Holocaust since 1945 than had previously been available in the scholarly literature. We identified a dialectic between Germans' desire -- varying in intensity over the decades -- to repress the past and Germans' efforts to face up to the crimes that had been committed in their name, and we evidenced the way in which German debates on German wartime suffering (the bombing of German cities, the expulsion of ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe, the mass rapes of German women, etc.) were never distinct from debates on the country's historical responsibility for the Holocaust but were always implicit within them, and vice versa. Further to this, we traced the way in which the German confrontation with the Holocaust has in recent years come to be seen as a model for how other nations, globally, can confront other dark pasts, for example, slavery, colonialism, apartheid, recent genocidal massacres such as Rwanda in 1994, and dictatorship in South America. We discovered that the German experience of confronting the Holocaust is 'usable' in these contexts precisely because it (often even ambivalently) provokes reflection on issues of 'owning up to the past', apology, reparation, restitution, and the difficult balance to be struck between understanding and condemnation.

Our follow-on impact project aims to use stimulus materials drawn from the original research -- historical images of key moments when Germans were forced to confront the crimes committed in their name, and original films -- as the basis for a series of four workshops with a writer (Anthony Haddon, of the Theatre Company Blah Blah Blah), the director and dance tutor at RJC Dance (the leading Black dance organisation in the North of England), and RJC's young dancers, who mostly come from a Black background. Following this period of knowledge exchange in December 2015 and January 2016, we will work with the writer, director and dance tutor to co-produce a dance performance for the RJC's Youth Division. The performance will translate the historical images and films used as stimulus materials -- and the issues of confrontation with the past, silence and denial, acceptance and reparation that the images reveal -- into a dance performance. This dance performance will be rehearsed over three months from January 2015 to April 2016. It will then be staged at the University of Leeds in late April at two twilight performances for students and pupils from local schools, with a third performance at The UK National Holocaust Centre. Two student interns from the University of Leeds will also be involved in the workshops, creative process, and performances, and highlights of our engagement with partners and of the performances will be filmed. In May 2016, the final month of the project, a post-production workshop will take place and a short film will be edited and released as a record of the different interactions and engagements that have taken place.

Our aims are: 1) to engage new audiences, and young Black people in particular, with the Holocaust and the German experience of confronting the Holocaust; 2) to produce an original piece of dance performance based on our research and our collaboration with a Black dance organisation; 3) to encourage Black audiences -- but also other diverse audiences at the University of Leeds performances and at the UK National Holocaust Centre -- to reflect on the relevance of the German experience of confronting the Holocaust for other forms of prejudice; 4) to record our work, to provide researchers, educationalists and teachers, and interested organisations with a model that can be developed further.

Planned Impact

RJC Dance is the leading Black dance organisation in the North of England. It works in partnership with national organisations to develop Black British dance. RJC Dance is also committed to social mobilisation in its local community and to dance as educational outreach. Anthony Haddon is an experienced drama specialist who has worked in Youth Theatre and Dance for many years. Haddon operates under the aegis of the Theatre Company Blah Blah Blah as a writer and director, but he is frequently also seconded to other arts organisations to develop productions that have a social or educational impact within local communities, for which the Blahs typically offer in-kind support. In 2014, Haddon worked with Taberner on 'Falling to our Knees', a drama performance based on West German Chancellor Willy Brandt's spontaneous act of contrition in 1970. The Holocaust Survivors Friendship Association (HSFA) is a Leeds-based charity set up in 1996. The HSFA uses the lessons from its members' experience to work towards a more tolerant society in which difference and diversity are celebrated. The UK National Holocaust Centre was established in 1995, with the aim of examining the roots of discrimination and prejudice, and the development of ethical values, leading to a greater understanding within society.

- RJC Dance will benefit from Taberner and Cooke's research into the German experience of confronting the Holocaust. Specifically, we will provide stimulus material (images and films) for a discussion of issues of 'owning up to the past', apology, reparation, restitution, and the difficult balance to be struck between understanding and condemnation. We will work with RFC Dance and the writer, Anthony Haddon, to translate these discussions into a usable concept for a dance performance. RJC Dance will thus directly benefit from our intellectual input and from the scripting of an original performance.

- The young performers of the RJC Dance's Youth Division will work with us, and with Anthony Haddon, to develop the performance. This will not only enhance their performing skills but also expose them to a history (the Holocaust) that they are unlikely to have considered in any depth previously. It is anticipated that participation will encourage young Black performers to reflect on the relevance of the Holocaust to their own experience. Collaboration with the Holocaust Survivors Friendship Association will benefit its interest in broadening understanding of the Holocaust beyond white (Jewish and Christian) audiences.

- The UK National Holocaust Centre will address its remit of expanding interest in the Holocaust to ethnic-minority audiences who have traditionally been less engaged. In staging a performance at the Centre, we will be able to bring young Black people together with the Centre's established audiences, as well as with Holocaust survivors. The UK National Holocaust Centre also exists to challenge the persistence of prejudice in the present, and the performance's presentation of the relevance of the Holocaust for Black and ethnic-minority groups is intended to further this aim.

- In offering in-kind support to the project and Haddon's expertise, the Theatre Company Blah Blah Blah will fulfil its remit to work with young people and to fashion drama as educational tool.

- Local schools in the West Yorkshire region will benefit from twilight performances that will encourage pupils to debate not only the significance of the Holocaust but also how we confront 'dark pasts' more generally, including histories of persecution and exclusion. We will work with the University of Leeds (UoL) Outreach Office to identify suitable schools.

- Researchers, educationalist, and teachers will benefit from the films that we will upload to YouTube via our website. This record of our collaboration will offer a resource that can be developed further.

We will work with the UoL Press Office to maximise the project's reach through via the media.


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Description That a 'foreign' history - ie the history of the Holocaust - can be highly effectively in mobilising debate in this country about contemporary issues such as racism and migration. That original historical material can - if handled sensitively - be deployed to grow the confidence and political engagement of young people, especially from marginalised communities.
Exploitation Route The project showed the viability of using very different experiences to reach 'hard-to-reach' groups educationally and culturally.
Sectors Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL https://www.rjcdance.org.uk/news/one-amongst-millions.html
Description The project was to design a dance performance with a group of Black British young people from North Leeds, on their understanding of the Holocaust and its relevance for their lives in contemporary Britain. The students reported that a) their confidence in their own abilities had grown, b) their understanding of the Holocaust had increased significantly, c) they had visited a university for the first time, and had performed there to a large and sophisticated audience, and had taken questions from the audience, d) they were more aware of debates around racism and human rights and how these linked to 'global events' such as the Holocaust.
Sector Creative Economy,Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

Description RJC Dance 
Organisation RJC Dance
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution worked with RJC Dance to develop a dance performance with young people from a predominantly Black British theatre organisation, relating to our work on the Holocaust.
Collaborator Contribution Provision of venue, dancers, and dance instructors, and also discussion on how best to present the material to young performers and to the Black British community.
Impact Dance performances at Nelson Mandela Centre, North Leeds, University of Leeds.
Start Year 2015