“Staff fear that the current library closure plans pose a grave danger to developing future learning about the Holocaust in an easily accessible way,” said Andy Bye, negotiator for Prospect union, which represents the museum’s professionals, managers and specialists.
Today’s Holocaust Memorial Day – under the theme “Keep the memory alive” – marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, where 1.6 million men, women and children were murdered.
The Imperial War Museum’s permanent Holocaust exhibition traces the Nazi persecution and murder of 6 million Jews from 1933 to 1945 and 5 million non-Jewish victims.
“The anniversary reminds us again of why we must keep up the pressure to save the museum’s library and education services. It is a vital resource for ordinary people, which contributes to ensuring the Holocaust and its lessons have a permanent place in our nation’s collective memory and that of future generations,” said Bye.
Nearly 20,000 people have signed a petition to save the library and Bye urged the public to keep up the pressure by adding their names.
IWM North is holding daily tours during January telling, among others, the stories of Holocaust survivor Edith Birkin; Ruth Wasserman, who came to Britain on the Kindertransport in 1939; and Leslie Hardman, a Jewish chaplain with the British Army, who entered Bergen-Belsen concentration camp two days after its liberation.
Bye pointed out: “Material from the library played a pivotal role in the development and delivery of the Holocaust Exhibition, which opened in 2000, and was also placed in the Holocaust galleries. Library staff also conducted vital research.
“The museum’s library holdings add value to the museum’s other Holocaust holdings, such as sound recordings, photographs, film, exhibits, documents and artworks.”
The IWM library holds more than 2,000 Holocaust-related titles, collected from the Second World War to the present day, including an excellent collection of autobiographies. Many were donated by former refugees and Holocaust survivors.
“Along with the rest of IWM’s collection, these resources are made doubly accessible because of the museum’s unique and detailed classification system,” said Bye.
Yet the museum faces an annual deficit of £4m because of cuts in government funding. To address these, it intends to:
- close its unique library and disperse its collection
- cut important education services
- cut 60–80 jobs
- close the popular ‘Explore History’ facility in London.
Overall around 240,000 items in IWM’s library collection are at risk from the closure plans. Librarians have been leafleting the public every lunchtime since the cuts were revealed in November 2014.