Tom Palmer and writing historical fiction

We were thrilled when children’s author, Tom Palmer, contacted us with an offer to write a short story connected with our exhibition The Boys: Holocaust Survivors in the Epping Forest District.

Tom’s book After the War tells the story of the Boys and their arrival in England to begin their journey to recovery from the terrible experiences of the Holocaust on the shores of Lake Windermere. 

Tom researched material for this story, speaking to historians such as Trevor Avery of the Lake District Holocaust Project, as well as local people who still remember the boys to make sure his story reflected their lives and experiences with as much historical accuracy as possible.  It was important to Tom to do justice to the story of the boys this way.  He includes photographs he used in his research in his book so you can see the evidence for yourself.

The three main characters in After the War are Yossi, Mordecai and Leo.  They are composite characters, but elements of their lives are all based on what happened to the real boys.

Tom wanted to write a story about one of the actual boys for us and we decided to focus on Sir Ben Helfgott, whose story is so incredible it is almost hard to believe it is true.  Ben survived the Holocaust, describing himself as a ‘walking skeleton’ when the war finally ended, and the camps were liberated.  Yet, within ten years of his arrival in Britain he captained the British Weightlifting Team at the 1956 and 1960 Olympic Games.  And, even more incredibly, in 1948 he found his sister Mala had also survived the Holocaust and they were reunited.

Ben is seated on the left, wearing a hat alongside his friends, fellow Loughton Boys Jan Goldberger and Harry Spiro.  Mala stands to the left of Ben.  Their families surround them.

We had the privilege of meeting Ben, Mala and their families at reunion of the Boys held at the museum and at Holmehurst, the house where Ben and his friend came to stay in the district.  We are very grateful that Ben and his family gave us permission to tell his story, to keep inspiring future generations with this story of survival and hope.

You can read Tom’s story His name is Ben on our website and find out more about Tom and After the War on his website

Four talented young people review the latest exhibition at Epping Forest District Museum

As part of the Bronze Arts Award program currently running at Epping Forest District Museum, young people have visited and reviewed the latest exhibition ‘The Boys: Holocaust Survivors in the Epping Forest District.

Below are four insightful reflections on the exhibition.

Review One – by Harry Hyett

The exhibition that I have been to is ‘The Boys: Holocaust Survivors in the Epping Forest District’. I was expecting there to be a lot of artefacts in glass boxes, however there were paintings, tapestries, quotes on the wall, video and audio devices and more. It wasn’t how I imagined it as there was so much information packed in the small room.

The first thing I heard when I entered the room was classical piano music which made it feel old. I saw the railway cart and German writing on it and stepped in and felt cold which instantly felt like it was war.

My eye was drawn to the boy’s poster reminding me what it was about. It made me think about the Holocaust and it is very well thought out as it immediately sets out the scene and reminds you what the exhibition is about.

At the start it is very black and dark, like the horrors of the Holocaust which it is telling you about, but after the liberation it turns green. I think they did this as green makes me think of new beginnings like a new leaf sprouting.

The choice of objects is very well picked as they have an emotional story behind them – not just an old object!

The choice of pictures is good, and they tell the story quite well as the pictures of the Holocaust are not placed as you walk in, they are placed in chronological order. Another reason why the choice of pictures is very good is because as you imagine what it is like. Reading the text, you look up at the pictures and see the Holocaust then imagine what it was like and really connect on an emotional level, so yes, they are effective.

The large text on the wall gives an effect that it is very important and clear.

The film is high up on the wall and is near the pictures and naturally draws attention to them as people love to look at screens. It is also high up for practical reasons: if it were low down people would crowd around blocking the view.

I think the TV interview is good as you do not have to sit down and wait for it to go to the start you can pick to watch from any point. It does make a difference as you can see what the survivors look like more clearly and it symbolises the start of a new age. It is clear who is talking as it says the names of them. The volume could be a bit louder, so people do not crowd, but no other improvements otherwise.

The audio stand is very effective as you can choose which ones to listen to as it says what they are about. It is not much different as there are only a few pictures shown but other than that you are just listening to experiences. I prefer the audio as you can sit down, and it is not always replaying. You can rewind to number one or two and if you are listening for a while you can sit.

I think the paintings are very good as they give the effect that they are trapped like in the camps. They add a lot to the exhibition as they give a different material – the Holocaust is not just shown as artefacts in boxes.

The quilts are very good as there are lots of things to look at, each personal, and a story behind them. They are different to the paintings as there are many to look at, with lots of emotional stories, where the painting has just been painted with one story. There is a big community behind the narratives of the quilts. It is very good as it concludes the exhibition with all of the Loughton boys and a part of their own story which is what the exhibition is all about and what you go home thinking about – the Loughton boys.

The exhibition is accessible to everyone because there is a lift for wheelchair users or anyone else who needs it, it is free so anyone can come and it is a walk in so you do not need to book, so you can come in when it suits you .

I think this exhibition is of hope and despair. I think it is both for the first half of the exhibition it talks about the horrors of the Holocaust then it turns green after the liberation, a new beginning, so hope.

The quality of the exhibition is very good as there is so much information in a small room, and it is not just odd objects in glass boxes. The history is displayed in all kinds of ways.

It could be even better if:  there were seating near the screens but not too close blocking the view, if the television was a little louder so everyone did not crowd around it, the audio wire was a little longer, and there were not parts of the exhibition outside. There were parts I did not notice at first on the left when you are standing outside. Finally, the information about the railway wagon should be on the board on the right by the entrance, as I could not tell what the outside was meant to be at first –  but I think I could not find more things to improve even if I tried. It was a high-quality exhibition and I enjoyed it a lot.

Review Two – By Dilly Roth

I went to see ‘The Boys: Holocaust Survivors in the Epping Forest District’ exhibition at Epping Forest District Museum in Waltham Abbey.

I was expecting a lot of pictures and information. That was mostly what it was like, but there were a lot of artefacts, and a lot of them had upsetting or heart-warming back stories. There were also some video and sound interviews which were very interesting.

The first thing I heard as I entered was fast classical piano music which was calming and seemed like it was near to when the Holocaust started.

The things that my eyes were drawn to and that I liked best were the paintings by one of the Holocaust survivors. The pictures made me feel intrigued.

I noticed the curator had added barbed wire at the bottom of each panel and throughout the information panels he slowly changed the black background to green and the barbed wire to a green line as a symbol of peace.  I felt this was very effective as it slowly shows harmony.

This exhibition showed creativity by turning the entrance into a railway carriage.

What I learnt from the exhibition was that mostly Jewish men survived the Holocaust as men were made to work and women were sent straight to gas chambers.

I think the exhibition was very assessable as it is free and has a lift and stairs, so it does not exclude anyone.


The quality of the content was amazing and extremely creative. If I had to change anything about the exhibition, I would add chairs to sit on.

Review Three – by Cameron Martin

The exhibition I attended was called ‘The Boys: Holocaust survivors in the Epping Forest District’.

I had expected it to be full of glass cases each containing a few items with an information board underneath with a little bit of information on the items, but, as I found out when I visited the exhibition, I was wrong.

The very first thing I heard as I entered the exhibition was fast classical piano music that gave an old feel to the exhibition.

The front of the exhibition was designed to look like an old railway cart that was used to transport the Boys about to the camps and to the airports when they were liberated. The cart was made of a reddish-brown wood and rusty metal adding to the old feel of the exhibition.

The very first thing I saw as I walked in was the same photo as on the poster telling me I am in the right place. It was a photo of the Boys. I noticed that at the start there was barbed wire at the bottom of the information board that gives a solemn feel to the start.

I realised that all the items had stories behind them. One that particularly jumped out at me was a homemade toothbrush as it struck me as absurd that the prisoners were not even provided with toothbrushes.

I think the photos on the walls were effective to show that only a few people survived (only 715 survivors were sent to Britain of the thousands captured).

At the end of the exhibition there were four quilts made by the families of the Boys. I think the quilts are effective to show almost the dawn of a new era in that they were very colourful and cheery and positive.

All in all, I think this is a great exhibit and though very small I think it is full of information. I think it is also very easily accessible as there is a lift, lots of space and you can walk-in without having to book. On the other hand, there could be more chairs.

Review Four – By Aiden Philpott

I visited an exhibition called ‘The Boys: Holocaust survivors in the Epping Forest District’ at the Epping Forest District Museum.

The first thing I heard when I approached was fast, classical piano music, which linked to one of the Holocaust survivors.

Before I entered, I noticed that the wall resembled a cart in which people would have been transported to the concentration camps. I also noticed a photograph of the Boys at the Holocaust Hostel in Loughton. These transported me back to the WWII – era and afterwards.

I also noticed that the curator has chosen to have the black walls and boards which gradually turned into a brighter colour. In addition, at first, at the bottom of the boards there were silhouettes of barbed wire, which reminded me of a prison. This gradually turned into green layers, symbolising the end of WWII and improving situations.

Despite its small size, the exhibition is very detailed and full of information, with few objects but ones that were extremely important. My eye was drawn to a German map of Europe which showed where each of the concentration camps were. This was very effective and horrified me because I had no idea how many camps there were.

The quotes on the wall were very noticeable as they were much larger than the other text.

The two films stand out more than the pictures and one of them has been placed quite high up on the wall to make it even more noticeable.

The exhibition is very assessable as there is a lot of space, it is free, you can just turn up and it is COVID – safe.

At the end of the exhibition, there was a contrast between the dull, cramped paintings and the colourful, fun quilts, all of which were created by the holocaust survivors and/or their families. This was my favourite part of the exhibition as it showed both the despair and the hope of the Holocaust survivors.

Overall, the exhibition is extremely effective. However, I only noticed the signs explaining the piano music and the walls resembling a railway cart just as I was leaving. In my opinion, to make the exhibition even better, these signs could be moved closer to the entrance, so they are more noticeable.

I would definitely recommend this exhibition to everyone; you do not need any prior knowledge of WWII and its aftermath to be fascinated by this.

Learning about The Boys: Holocaust Survivors in the Epping Forest District

The museum reopened on the 17 May 2021 with a special exhibition on The Boys, the young survivors of the Holocaust who came to stay at Holmehurst, a house on the borders of Loughton and Buckhurst Hill from December 1945 to January 1947.

These young people were Polish Jews and had survived the Holocaust.  Most of them were the only member of their family to survive.

This subject is challenging to teach but is also an important piece of local history.  If we focus on the stories of these young people before and after the Holocaust – what their lives were like before the war, and they went on to achieve – there are many important lessons to engage pupils.

One useful resource is the book After the War by Tom Palmer, focussing on the arrival of the Boys in Windermere, in the Lake District, to begin their recovery before they were transferred in small groups to other hostels such as Loughton.  Tom worked with the Lake District Holocaust Project and UCL Centre for Holocaust Education to research and write this story and create learning resources.  The story is a powerful and sensitive introduction to this topic.  We are fortunate that Tom has offered to write a short story to accompany our exhibition; His Name is Ben will explore the story of Ben Helfgott, one of the Boys who came to Loughton and went on to become an Olympic weightlifter.

We have also worked with the Jewish Music Institute and Essex Music Services to create a resource for a music lesson, exploring a traditional Jewish song.  This aims to engage pupils with Jewish life and culture in Poland before the Second World War, providing a context for thinking about the families the young people came from, and what their childhood was like, before the war changed everything.

We hope that these will become part of a permanent resource, alongside a new Holocaust Memorial planned for the district, and help young people learn about this important piece of history, and its relevance to the local area.

Topic Boxes: Making a classroom museum and developing writing skills

The museum has a range of boxes for hire relating to many different history topics.  Schools have found many different creative ways to use them.  One popular idea is to create a class museum.  Pupils can choose an object to research then write a label on it – but to really develop their skills at writing and presenting information for different audiences, they can also learn the techniques we use when writing labels in the museum.

We start off by doing a lot of research on an object first.  Pupils can start by reading the information on their object in the topic box resource pack.  Information from this might lead them to do further research in books or on the internet.  At this point it will be useful to discuss which websites might provide the most reliable information for research – another museum’s website is likely to have good information on objects.

Now comes the hard bit.  After all that work work, pupils must decide what are the most important things visitors to your class museum should know about their object.  They can’t fit all the information on to their label as that would be too much for a visitor to read.  Remember, visitors will be looking round the museum at lots of objects, so they aren’t likely to read or remember more than one or two facts about each one.

However, this is also the fun bit – pupils are now the expert on the object, so they can decide what they think the most important thing visitors should know about their object. It might be an historical piece of information, a quirky fact, something funny or amazing – you really want to grab visitors’ attention, so they are encouraged to find out more for themselves. Can you think of another good way of grabbing a visitor’s attention?  You can ask a question on the label (see what I did there?!) This will encourage the visitor to talk or think about their object.

We usually try and write no more than 50 words on a label, so pupils can try making that their word limit.  Other important things to include are the title or name of the object, the date it was made and / or used but if you don’t know this you can say so. 

Now think about the design of your label.  You want people to be able to read it easily, when typing them we use a big font size – about 16 points for a title and 14 points for the information about it.  We might use a different colour for the title or make it bold.  There are lots of different font styles you can choose, but we usually go for something plain and simple like Arial or Century Gothic as these are easy for people to read.  If you are handwriting them, then neat and clear writing will work just as well.

If this sounds a bit boring, then you can have a lot more fun getting creative with a poster design for your classroom exhibition.  More on that, with some top tips from the museum’s exhibition design expert in a future blog!

Find out more about the boxes available to hire

VE Day 8 May 2020

The 8 May 2020 marks 75 years since VE Day, the end of the Second World War in Europe.  Over the years Epping Forest District Museum has marked many anniversaries connected with WW2 through special exhibitions.  These have explored the impact of the war on the district and the role local people played. From airfields and the defence of London, through bombing raids, evacuees, GIs, Land Girls and POWS, the war left an amazing legacy in our district.  Over the years many people have shared their stories of the war with us, and donated objects to the museum.  These form an legacy that helps us tell the story of this important part of the district’s history today.

Sadly, the exhibition we had planned for the 75th anniversary year, The Boys: Holocaust Survivors in the Epping Forest District has had to be postponed until next year.  We thought we’d take this opportunity to look back at some of the other exhibitions from previous years.

Poster Victory WW2 & Time for Tea

In 1995 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of VE Day, the museum hosted the Victory exhibition, alongside Time for Tea.

In 2005 the museum received funding to record the memories of people who had lived through the war, and these featured in the special exhibition ‘Keep Smiling Through’. These memories now form an important part of the museum’s oral history collections.  The late Ray Sears, well known for his historical photograph collection of Waltham Abbey, recalled how he spent his time at school during the war sitting in the headmaster’s office, taking phone calls,

‘if the air raid warning ‘red’ comes through … you just used to say thank you and put the phone down …  you then dashed out to the playground and you had a whistle and you blew that whistle at the top of your voice … you had to make sure you had orderly lines of [children] running down there so they went into the shelters …we did that for, well I was there for what, near enough two years doing that.  You just sat in the shelter.’

Another fascinating story was that of Josef Kox, a German Prisoner of War who was transferred to England just before the war ended.  He was sent to a farm in Theydon Bois to work, then on to Hayes Hill Farm in Waltham Abbey where he met, and eventually married the farmer’s daughter, making his future life and home here.  You can still read about his experiences on the BBC People’s War website

Josef recalls, ‘At this late stage I would like to pay a tribute to the people of Waltham Abbey. Considering the war, six years of it… and people here suffered and everyone suffered. Everybody suffered in that war, didn’t matter where you were, or who you were, you suffered to some degree. So I was really surprised to find that people took to us, they were very tolerant and friendly and I will never forget that.’


In 2008 the special exhibition ‘Onwards and Upwards’ told the story of the Royal Naval submarine, HMS Sickle, that was sponsored by the people of Epping during WW2.  The commander, Lieut. J R Drummond, became known as the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo when one of the torpedoes fired from the submarine exploded under the casino.  Tragically, the submarine was itself lost with all hands on board on 18 June 1944.  A commemorative plaque for HMS Sickle and those who lost their lives has now been placed on the wall of St John’s Church in Epping.


Poster Make Do & Mend

In 2009 the museum’s collections were the inspiration for ‘Make Do and Mend’ a special exhibition in partnership with the Epping Forest District Council’s Arts Team, who worked with care home residents and young people on a project combining reminiscence and creativity.  Inspiration was taken from the Make Do and Mend campaign of WW2 to recreate new clothing from old materials.





The exhibitions themselves are now wonderful memories to share of the role the museum plays in bringing the district together to commemorate significant events and our part in them.  We very much look forward to welcoming you here again one day.

You Wear it Well – volunteer blogs

Hear from some of our volunteers about their latest project, helping with the You Wear It Well exhibition and why they want to be a volunteer!

helenName: Helen

What is the current exhibition you are working on about?

The costume exhibition is called ‘You Wear it Well’. It tells the story of the museum’s costume collection and how we care for it.

Which has been your favourite costume you’ve worked on so far and why?

The 1914 wedding dress, it has swing to its structure and style.



What are you working on at the moment and going to work on next?

I have been working on condition checking and preparing for the exhibition. I have also been steaming the costume ready for photography and display. The next steps will including searching for ephemera related to the exhibition.

Why have you chosen to volunteer at Epping Forest District Museum?

I have an interest in history and museums in general. Also, a local resident in Waltham Abbey.

You Wear it Well – volunteer blogs

Hear from some of our volunteers about their latest project, helping with the You Wear It Well exhibition and why they want to be a volunteer!

MichaelaName: Michaela

What is the current exhibition you are working on about?

‘Wear it well’ – costume exhibition, deals with various aspects of the history of clothes from early 20th century up until the present day. This exhibition also explains how to look after the costume collection and what damages could occur.

Which has been your favourite costume you’ve worked on so far and why?

One of them would be an evening dress with floral decorations, a light blue one from the 1950s. It has a lovely ballroom feel, it’s in great condition, and as I love that time period, it is one of my favourites of this exhibition.

What are you working on at the moment and going to work on next?

I have been measuring and condition checking the costumes we chose for the exhibition, also I have started steaming them and will continue to do this.

Why have you chosen to volunteer at Epping Forest District Museum?

I have always been interested in history (any field) and have visited various museums since I was a child. As I don’t live far away and have a keen interest in behind the museum scenes, Epping Forest District Museum was an easy choice. I have learned a lot and have met lovely people.

You Wear it Well – volunteer blogs

Hear from some of our volunteers about their latest project, helping with the You Wear It Well exhibition and why they want to be a volunteer!

JoanName: Joan

What is the current exhibition you are working on about?

‘You wear it well’ exhibition is the new display for 2020. It involves fashion and accessories portraying the museums costume collection.

Which has been your favourite costume you’ve worked on so far and why?

A long black velvet evening coat, its timeless! It is elegant in good condition and the coat can be worn and suited over any dress.



What are you working on at the moment and going to work on next?

At the moment we are working on conditioning reports for the exhibition, such as accessories. Next, we have plans for laying out the Perspex exhibition cubes.

Why have you chosen to volunteer at Epping Forest District Museum?

I have a love of history, its interesting to learn low artefacts are cared for through conversation. Meeting new friends, in the last two years I have enjoyed working on the costume.

Being an apprentice at Epping Forest District Museum

Melis 1`Hi there, my name is Melis and I am a business admin and customer service apprentice at Epping Forest District Council. My first 6-month placement was here at Epping Forest District Museum.

My journey started off with leaving Harlow college with a distinction in music, and not knowing my next step to success. I had no interest in going to university or carry on being in education. My initial plan was to carry on doing music, but my route changed after having the suggestion of joining the council as an apprentice by my own mother.

I applied not knowing anything about the council at all, and within a few weeks, I had received an email to inform me that I will be interviewed but with a pre-training week taking place beforehand.

During my pre-training week, I met other apprentices to be, who were part of my age group, I wasn’t expecting this at all. I had learnt more about the departments in the council and a few skills on how to undergo an interview. All of this really helped me with succeeding in securing my apprenticeship placement at the council.

My interview had taken place right after that week and I believe that was the best interview I had ever experienced. This was because I felt more comfortable knowing that I had practiced this time. Whereas with my part time jobs in the past, I hadn’t prepared for an interview before and my interviews were based on how well I worked in a team activity rather than having a discussion in a one-to one meeting.

Melis 3My interviewer had asked which placement I’d be interested to work in first, and straight away I wanted to work at the museum as I had an interest in history and really liked working with children.

On induction day, we were presented to our managers and I was so delighted to meet my manager knowing that I had got the placement I wanted, I was very grateful. The next day, I had toured round the museum and Hemnall street and all my colleagues had introduced themselves to me and made me feel welcome.


I have been doing a variety of things at my first placement. I focused on a schedule that I’d be doing from Monday to Friday. On Mondays and Tuesdays, I’d be working with a colleague on marketing tasks, which would include marketing theory and updating contact lists for upcoming events. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, I would be helping the volunteers with the museum collection which was a great experience because, I had the opportunity to hold old items even from the Victorian period. I’d add new collections onto a spreadsheet, move boxes around to see what needs to be put on display and sometimes clean these items in a specific way as these were really old and delicate things to take care of.

On Friday mornings I’d sit on reception, deal with customers face to face as well as over the phone. I learnt how to use the till and learnt more about the shop stock which was interesting.

Aside from these specific projects I’d also deal with customers over the phone whilst being in the office and help with a number of activities and events that took place. For example: Toddler Tuesdays which is once a month and Museum Movers which is a movement class for those over 55. It was great to participate in these activities because not only was it fun but, I’d meet new customers all the time and they were very friendly.

I do not know where my next placement will be, but I am excited as there are so many opportunities coming my way. My apprenticeship lasts for 2 years meaning I get to work in four placements in total. Even if I am not keen on one placement, I will remain optimistic because firstly, it will give me the benefit of learning new skills, and secondly, it will help me decide which areas I would like to work in when I apply for a job at the council in two years’ time.

I have had a lovely experience here and I will really miss the Museum and staff and the volunteers, and surely will visit again soon!