Starting on Wednesday 13 March 2019, the University of Northampton will be hosting an exhibition about the life of Reverend Dr James Parkes (1896 – 1981). Parkes was one of the most remarkable figures within twentieth-century Christianity. Yet since his death in 1981, he has largely been forgotten by the church, by Jews, and by British society as a whole.
The exhibition on display at Southampton city’s Holocaust and Genocide Memorial Day event in January 2019
James Parkes was a tireless fighter against antisemitism in all forms. He was one of the first Christians to accept both the Christian roots of antisemitism and the integrity and validity of Judaism. Throughout his career, Parkes worked tirelessly to promote religious tolerance and mutual respect among those of all faiths and none.
In the 1930s, he helped to rescue Jewish refugees from Europe, including Alexander Teich – the grandfather of the actress Rachel Weisz. Parkes campaigned for the Jews of Europe during the Holocaust. He was a key figure in the creation of the Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ). The CCJ was galvanised in 1942 as evidence of the Nazi extermination programme received widespread exposure in Britain. This was the most murderous year yet faced by European Jewry and the year when Polish Jewry was essentially destroyed.
Parkes authored more than 400 texts during his lifetime and was a prolific letter writer. He donated his library and personal papers to the University of Southampton in 1964. These materials formed the foundation for what later became the Parkes Institute, the world’s oldest and most wide-ranging centre for the study of Jewish/non-Jewish relations across the ages. The exhibition draws on documents and photographs from the University’s Special Collections to examine the life of James Parkes and reflect on his legacy for us today.
Since his death, James Parkes has been increasingly forgotten. He has become a ‘nobody’, whilst others are celebrated for the work that he pioneered. He ought to be remembered. Remembering activists such as Parkes is partly about honouring their humanity. But it also helps to illustrate the failure of their contemporaries to act during an age in which intolerance was all too common.
The exhibition has been curated by Chad McDonald, who is an alumnus of the University of Northampton. He is now a researcher based at the universities of Bristol and Southampton, where he is examining British post-war responses to the Holocaust. He is a member of the editorial team for the highly respected academic journal Patterns of Prejudice. The exhibition has been generously funded by the South, West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership (Arts and Humanities Research Council).
The exhibition will be opened with a keynote talk by the curator at 4pm on Wednesday 13 March. It will be on show in the Owl’s Nest on the Ground Floor of the Learning Hub on the Waterside Campus until 27 March. The exhibition is free and open to the public.
Click here for more details on the launch event on the 13 March