Centering young voices in Holocaust Survivor stories

Melbourne Holocaust Museum

Melbourne Holocaust Museum, The Village, Image by Mel Desa

Established in 1984 by Melbourne-based Holocaust survivors, the Melbourne Holocaust Museum is Australia's premier institution for Holocaust education, research, and remembrance. Its mission is to safeguard the narratives of survivors and honour their legacy, with initiatives designed to challenge anti-Semitism, racism, and prejudice.


In its commitment to extend educational outreach to younger demographics, the museum partnered with Art Processors to create a poignant and age-appropriate exhibition, resulting in Hidden: Seven Children Saved, a thoughtfully curated exhibition for students aged 11–14. This permanent exhibition shares the harrowing yet hopeful experiences of seven child survivors who, after enduring the atrocities of the Holocaust, eventually found a new home in Australia. Hidden is an enlightening medium for young visitors to engage with complex themes of prejudice and the importance of standing up for others, bridging historical events with contemporary lessons of empathy and courage.


Storytelling Strategy

Art Processors crafted Hidden to connect the past with the present, employing the voices of contemporary youth to retell the personal stories of seven child survivors. The exhibition charts each survivors' journey from their pre-war lives, through the tribulations of hiding from Nazi persecution, to the rebuilding of their lives post-liberation. It highlights key character strengths—kindness, bravery, fairness, hope, judgement, and perspective—mirrored in the visitors' journey to foster a sense of empathy and self-reflection. This storytelling, anchored in the "Safely In, Safely out" educational pedagogy, delicately balances the stark truths of history with the emotional well-being of its audience. By seeing their own reflections in the stories of survival, children are not only educated about historical resilience but also prompted to consider the lasting influence of their personal choices.

 

“Hidden allows you to experience an intimate story seven times over. The details are so touching, and you can’t have that sort of intimacy if you treat survivors and victims with broad brush strokes. It’s much better to focus on individual lives—that’s the strength of the original material, to realise these seven survivors eventually made their way to Melbourne, creating their own diaspora and their own families.”

Sam Doust, Group Director – Creative Services (Aus)

Melbourne Holocaust Museum, The Village, Image by Mel Desa

Exhibition Design

Our design approach echoes the thoughtful architectural design by Kerstin Thompson Architects with spaces crafted to highlight a sense of light and hope, creating an environment conducive to contemplation and learning. Throughout the galleries, we leveraged the museum’s collection of first-person testimony, personal artefacts, and photographic collections to create a poignant and interactive storytelling experience of cinematic soundscapes, projections, colourful illustrations, and dioramas.

Meeting the Survivors

Upon entering, visitors are introduced to the survivors as children through large-scale portraits, receiving a card depicting the individual whose journey they will trace throughout the exhibition. This initial interaction fosters a personal bond, as visitors discover relatable aspects such as family life and personal identity.

Melbourne Holocaust Museum, Meeting the Survivors, Image by Mel Desa
Melbourne Holocaust Museum, Meeting the Survivors, Image by Mel Desa

Pre-war life

As visitors enter the exhibition, a wall of survivor photos—proudly displayed like any collection of family photos—gives a glimpse of the vibrancy and relatability of Jewish life before the war. Soundscapes bring their family lives into reality: children playing, a child’s birthday party, people laughing and sharing meals, prayer and song.

Melbourne Holocaust Museum, Pre-war Life, Image by Mel Desa
Melbourne Holocaust Museum, Pre-War Life, Image by Mel Desa

The Village

The exhibition's largest gallery, 'The Village', represents the survivors' communal life. Through projection mapping and synchronised soundscapes, a three-dimensional village model vividly transitions from a lively pre-war neighbourhood to depicting the erosion of normalcy and the subsequent expulsion of its Jewish residents. Young visitors are invited to engage more closely, using headphones to access intimate, animated dioramas inside the village homes. Peering through the windows, animated dioramas activated by first-person narratives recount the escalating hardships faced by the child survivors providing a deeply personal and relatable window into their lives during this time.

Melbourne Holocaust Museum, The Village, Image by Mel Desa
Melbourne Holocaust Museum, The Village, Image by Mel Desa

Hiding

In the 'Hiding' gallery, the exhibition conveys the experience of life in seclusion during the war. A compressed space with a maze of small cubbies, closets, and corners beckons students to explore. Opening windows and doors, they uncover hidden objects, secret sounds, and animated moments, each unveiling a unique survivor's tale of loss, risk, and courage. These personal stories are bound by a common thread, demonstrating the significant impact of acts of kindness, both small and large, on the child’s survival.

 

Melbourne Holocaust Museum, Hiding, Image by Mel Desa
Melbourne Holocaust Museum, Hiding, Image by Mel Desa

Liberation

As visitors trace the survivors' story towards the end of the war and liberation, they are drawn back to The Village. Through projected animations, they witness the enduring scars etched into Jewish communities and glimpse the survivors' aspirations for the future. It’s a bittersweet end. Scenes of reunions and grief intermingle as visitors encounter families irrevocably altered. The seven children, having survived the war both with and without their parents and siblings, make the heart-wrenching decision to abandon a Europe where they no longer see a future.

 

In Memoriam  

Here a quiet memorial stands in tribute to the family members who were murdered in the Holocaust. Their memory is honoured with a traditional Yahrzeit candle and treasured photographs.

Melbourne Holocaust Museum, In Memorium, Image by Mel Desa
Melbourne Holocaust Museum, In Memorium, Image by Mel Desa

The Learning Center

The Learning Studio serves as a versatile area dedicated to contemplation and discourse, allowing students to delve into the significance of the survivors' stories on a personal level. Students select a pivotal moment from their chosen survivor's story to examine the complexity of motives, risks, impacts and character strengths in the choices that were made—allowing them to reflect on the ways in which small moments of kindness were the difference between life and death for these survivors.

Melbourne Holocaust Museum, The Learning Center, Image by Mel Desa

“Somehow, the stories of children who survived in hiding have rarely been spoken of, and haven’t received the attention they deserve. It’s often reduced to, ‘Well, someone took care of them, and they survived.’ For me, it was an amazing opportunity to find something within my own family that can be conveyed to the next generation—and also under the painful realisation that we are now in the last years of survivors being among us. This deep personal connection came with a mission to do it right, in a way that respects these amazing stories of survival.”

—  Ariel Efron, Group Director – Creative Services (US), Second Generation Holocaust Survivor

 

Melbourne Holocaust Museum, Entry Experience, Image by Mel Desa
Hidden: Seven Children Saved; Melbourne Holocaust Museum; Photo by Mel Desa

Acknowledgement of Country

In the spirit of reconciliation, we acknowledge the many Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and honour Elders past, present and emerging. We respect their deep, enduring connection to their lands, waterways and surrounding clan groups since time immemorial. We cherish the richness of First Nations Peoples’ artistic and cultural expressions.