The work of 64 primary school children to remember the story of a Holocaust survivor will go on display from 20th May to 7th June at Birmingham Cathedral. As part of the commemorative arts programme, Echo Eternal, 8 – 11 year olds from Nelson Mandela Primary School worked with artist in residence Alistair Lambert to create the Echo Angel.
Echo Eternal is a commemorative arts, media and civic engagement project delivered in schools. It is inspired by the testimony of British survivors of the Holocaust recorded in interviews by Natasha Kaplinsky for the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation (UKHMF). The project is led by CORE Education Trust and brings together children from culturally diverse communities with a common focus of Holocaust memorial.
Nelson Mandela pupils viewed a video testimony of survivor Kurt Taussig’s story, before working with artist Alistair Lambert to create their response – their “echo”. At the age of 15, Kurt Taussig was placed on a train in 1939 by his mother and father to escape from the Nazi occupation of the Czech capital Prague. Along with his brother Karl he started a new life in Britain. Both their parents died in the Holocaust. At 18 Kurt joined the RAF and became the only Czech national in the British Royal Air Force as an officer. He became part of a special squadron, aged 22, and flew spitfires.
The children were inspired by Kurt’s story, his strength, love, determination and optimism, and created the Echo Angel as their response. Kurt’s life hinged on the moment when he boarded the Kinder Transport train to escape to Britain. Spanning those two worlds of before and after is the overarching love of his mother, who he repeatedly describes as an angel.
With this idea of an angel in mind the commissioned artist Alistair Lambert came across the stunning stained-glass windows by Edward Burne-Jones in Birmingham Cathedral. Their bold black outlines, beautiful feathers and embodied light inspired the design that was developed through a series of busy creative workshops with pupils at Nelson Mandela School in Sparkbrook.
Adrian Packer, Chief Executive of CORE Education and Founder of Echo Eternal said:
“It is wonderful to see Nelson Mandela Primary School’s Angel Echo in residence at the Cathedral. Echo Eternal has become a commemorative arts movement – it allows us to pay tribute to the survivors’ testimonies and champion civic engagement. We have created ‘echoes’ to spark light, to create new life, and new impulses. The Angel Echo is a brilliant illustration of this, and we are delighted that so many young people have already benefited from taking part in the programme.
“To date, 12 Birmingham schools have been part of the Echo Eternal movement, and our first schools in Coventry are also starting this week. Over the next couple of years, even more students will have the opportunity to engage with Echo Eternal, and by 2022, we anticipate that around 15,000 children, young people and their families will have been part of this movement – both listening to the echoes from the past and, in turn, creating their own echoes for the future.”
The Angel Echo will be in residence in Birmingham Cathedral until 7 June ,before moving to other locations to be viewed and appreciated.
Azita Zohhadi, Headteacher of Nelson Mandela Primary said:
“From my initial introduction to the project and my engagement with Kurt Taussig I was captivated. I couldn’t sleep for thinking. Echo Eternal was going to be, for the children at Nelson Mandela School, their personal and planned introduction to the Holocaust. The artistic response element of the project enabled our children to develop an understanding of sculpture as an art form. I know that our children will now stop and contemplate the hidden stories of sculptures instead of walking past them without a moment’s thought. Working with wood and nails enabled the children to physically connect with the words they had already connected with emotionally.
“Echo Eternal has connected our children with Kurt Taussig and his family. This personal connection has enabled them to learn about an incredibly horrific subject at a young age. This has allowed them to explore themselves and understand the importance of being a responsible citizen. I believe that our children will carry Kurt’s testimony with them always.”
Alistair Lambert, Artist in Resident said:
I watched Kurt Taussig’s testimony a couple of times, digesting it and letting it sink in. What struck me was the way the children engaged with Kurt referring to his mother as an angel, it’s the part of Kurt’s story they could relate too. Coincidentally, on my way back to London I stopped by St Phillip’s Cathedral and was drawn to the images of angels. We decided to use hammers and nails to create the angel, because it’s active and it’s creative, the children couldn’t get enough of it.
We discussed in groups what we thought were the most important parts of Kurt’s story, and for us all, it was his journey on the Kindertransport from Berlin to Britain. I asked the children to imagine what it would be like packing up all of their things and saying goodbye to their parents. The children weren’t just banging nails into boards, they were building a narrative rich in meaning. The children were fixated on the 10,000 children Kindertransport saved from the Holocaust, and that’s when we decided we would use 10,000 nails to represent the 10,000 children.
The ‘Echo Angel’ is a piece of art, and art is our way into a moment in time, into Kurt’s journey. The art echoes the testimony, and the children are picking up that echo like a baton and moving forward with it, and that’s so powerful and wonderful to see.
Hasfah Iqbal, 10, Nelson Mandela Primary said:
“The importance of Kurt’s message will be remembered forever. His words have made me realise how fortunate we are. We all need to be more tolerant. I feel so honoured and privileged to have heard his story”
Saaliha Malik, Nelson Mandela Primary said:
“Before the Echo Eternal project, I didn’t fully understand what had taken place in the past and how horrific it was. I would like to thank you for opening my eyes and inspiring me and my school to make sure this never happens again.”
Echo Eternal Started in the West Midlands in 2018, celebrating its first full year in January 2019. From 2021, the project will be extended to other regions of the UK culminating in an exhibition in the new Holocaust Memorial Gardens in the grounds of the Palace of Westminster.