Unpacking the past: The unique experience of learning with objects 

The late Holocaust survivor George Grojnowski often said: “I was born on 23 January, but I regard the day I came to Australia as my true birthday.”

George’s sentiment is not a rare one among our community of Holocaust survivors. For many of them, stepping off a boat or plane into a new life in Australia – half a world away from the traumas of war-torn Europe – was one of the most significant moments of their lives.

Among survivors’ migration experiences are stories of immense strength and resilience, of rebuilding lives shattered by immeasurable loss. Despite the hardship they endured, many would go on to make significant contributions to Australian society in all kinds of areas – from business to the arts, academia, medicine, and philanthropy.

The experiences of this incredible group of people are the focus of our new Migration Stories: Arrival Forever primary school program, aimed at students in Years 5 and 6.

Students engaged in the new program at the Museum, with Educator Ilana McCorquodale. Photography by David Swift

Uncovering survivors’ life experiences

The program presents students with suitcases filled with various objects belonging to survivors who made Australia home. Piece by piece, students investigate photos, documents and other artefacts, slowly building a fuller picture of each survivor’s life. Students also have the opportunity to meet a survivor in an intimate setting, hearing directly from them about what it was like to make a life in a new country.

Primary school program educator, Ilana McCorquodale says:

“This program creates an experiential learning environment that can’t be emulated in a classroom. Students engage with exhibits artefacts, participate in interactive activities, and ask questions to deepen their understanding. It’s a fully-immersive experience that allows them to legitimately hold history in the palms of their hands.”

Museum Educator Jeff Fletcher is a firm advocate for this kind of object-based learning. Over recent years, he’s been working to build a collection of historical objects, used specifically for educational programs like this one.

Jeff says:

“Unpacking an individual’s life experiences through objects adds a new level of perspective and curiosity for students. The incredible impact this kind of learning is having on our students is a testament to the powerful role that objects play in providing a window into the past.”

Students learning with objects. Photograph by David Swift.

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