Kate Middleton Shares Touching Reunion with Holocaust Survivors — and Their Grandkids

The Duchess of Cambridge honored World War II's fallen service members and survivors on Wednesday at the launch of the Imperial War Museum's Second World War and Holocaust Galleries in London

Kate Middleton
Photo: Tim P. Whitby/Getty

Kate Middleton had a poignant reunion on Wednesday.

The Duchess of Cambridge, 39, spent the afternoon with two people she photographed as part of a project to highlight survivors of the Holocaust: Steven Frank and Yvonne Bernstein, whom Kate captured with their grandchildren as part of the photo memorial that she unveiled in February 2020 on the 75th anniversary of the Second World War.

Frank told PEOPLE the Duchess was particularly interested in "talking with my grandchildren and in what they had to say. She was asking about how they are and their schools."

The museum's Head of Content James Bulgin noted Kate particularly locked in on the personal stories of the people in the Holocaust, embracing the galleries' mission to show them not as victims but as complete humans with lives before the atrocity of war.

"It's fantastic to be able to have people in the space and have someone so engaged who has the route to other people," he told PEOPLE. "Anything we can do to generate awareness and bring people into the space and ask them to think about the history is a very, very good thing, for which we are grateful."

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Tim P. Whitby/Getty

For Wednesday's visit, she opted for an appropriately muted and military-inspired white and navy blouse to complement her navy pants, suede heels and calf-length duster, which was topped off with with a poppy Remembrance pin.

Her pictures are featured among 50 photographs in the Generations: Portraits of Holocaust Survivors exhibition at the Imperial War Museum.

In its Holocaust Galleries, where the museum tells the individual stories of some of the six million Jewish people murdered by the Nazis, there are more than 2,000 photos, books, artworks, letters and personal belongings to help catalog peoples' stories.

"We are honoured to host Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge at IWM today, and to witness her launching our new Second World War and The Holocaust Galleries," IWM's Director-General Diane Lees said in a statement. "Formally opening these Galleries, which are dedicated to improving understanding of two of the most devastating conflicts and genocides in human history, a day before the world stands together to remember those who have fallen in war, is incredibly poignant for us. Given that this period will sadly soon pass out of living memory, we want these Galleries to preserve the stories of our veterans, our eyewitnesses and our survivors, and ensure that we never forget what they experienced."

Kate's visit to officially open the Holocaust Galleries and the Second World War Galleries and came in the week that Britain remembers those who have been lost or have suffered because of wartime.

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The Duchess began her visit at the Second World War Galleries, which display more than 1,500 collection items from 80 countries to help bring to life the impact the war had on millions of people.

She was invited to try her hand at cracking the code on a recreated Enigma machine, following in the footsteps of her grandmother, whose wartime service saw her working at the Second World War Government Code and Cypher School in Bletchley Park.

"She had a go at setting it up and then deciphering the message," museum curator Kate Clements told PEOPLE. "She did pretty well!"

Kate was then taken to the Holocaust Gallery, where key exhibits, such as a V1 rocket and a box from the secret Oneg Shabbat archive of the Warsaw Ghetto, were shown to her.

"When you see on the news" today, Frank told PEOPLE, "it seems as if the world has learned so little in the intervening years. My mission, when I talk in schools, has become more and more important. I am doing it because I hope it will produce a generation of young people who will demand action, like we are seeing [with the climate change protests] in Glasgow. And I hope that will happen and we will have peace in the world."

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She also spoke with photographer Tom Hunter who showed her his portrait of Harry Spiro BEM. Spiro survived numerous death marches and concentration camps and arrived in Britain as one of the Windermere Children — some of whom the Duchess met in the Lake District in September.

Leading photographer Jillian Edelstein and the subject of her portrait, John Hajdu MBE, who survived the Holocaust in Hungary, was also introduced to Kate. The photo captures Hajdu with a small teddy bear 'Teddy,' which he took into the Budapest Ghetto, then traveled with from Hungary to the U.K. as a wartime refugee.

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Kate's photographic work is among those of a dozen leading contemporary photographers who took part in the initiative created in partnership with IWM, Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, the Royal Photographic Society (of which The Duchess is Patron), Jewish News and Dangoor Education. The exhibit runs at the museum until January 9, 2022.

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