This week, 136 Year 8 and Year 9 pupils had privilege of hearing the testimony of Mr Ernest Simon, a Holocaust survivor, as part of a visit organised by the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET).
The testimony was followed by a question and answer session to enable our pupils to better understand the nature of the Holocaust. The visit was part of the Holocaust Educational Trust’s extensive all year round Outreach Programme, which is available to schools across the UK.
Ernest, an Austrian living in Vienna prior to the Second World War, shared his story about how he came to the UK in 1939 via the Kindertransport (German for “children’s transport”) to flee the Nazis. He was just eight years old.
To him, as a child leaving his parents and younger brother, it had seemed quite an adventure and he didn’t understand the wider implications. He believed his parents when they said they would see him soon. Ernest did not know then that he was part of the Kindertransport, an organised rescue effort that took place during the nine months prior to the outbreak of the war. Ernest was just one of the 10,000 children from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and the Free City of Danzig, that the UK offered sanctuary to.
Many of those children Ernest travelled with, never saw their families again as they all perished in the systematic killing of the Jewish people. Ernest was more fortunate, his parents and brother managed to get out a few months later on domestic permits. However, they could not be together as a family immediately. Ernest was sent to live with a foster family and his father was interned as an ‘enemy alien’. It was not until 1942 that the family was finally united.
We can only imagine what a heartbreaking decision it must have been for his parents to decide which of their children to send out of Austria. Places were limited on the trains and none of them at the time would know that many of those that remained would become part of the 6 million murdered Jewish people.
One of his vivid memories, prior to leaving Vienna was standing, watching the burning of holy prayer books in the street below. What he did not know, was that he was witnessing Kristallnacht, also called Night of Broken Glass or November Pogroms, the infamous night in November 1938 when Nazis attacked Jewish people and their property. The name Kristallnacht refers ironically to the litter of broken glass left in the streets after these pogroms.
Mr Eost, Head of School said:
“It was a privilege for us to welcome Ernest Simon to our school and his testimony will remain a powerful reminder of the horrors so many experienced. We are grateful to the Holocaust Educational Trust for co-ordinating the visit and we hope that by hearing Ernest’s testimony, it will encourage our students to learn from the lessons of the Holocaust and make a positive difference in their own lives.”
Karen Pollock MBE, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust added:
“The Holocaust Educational Trust educates and engages students from across the UK, from all communities about the Holocaust and there can be no better way than through the first-hand testimony of a survivor. Ernest’s story is one of tremendous courage during horrific circumstances and by hearing his testimony, students will have the opportunity to learn where prejudice and racism can ultimately lead.
“At the Trust, we impart the history of the Holocaust to young people, to ensure that we honour the memory of those whose lives were lost and take forward the lessons taught by those who survived.”
At Studley, we regularly invite survivors into school so we can remember and also pledge to make the future a good place for us all to live. For us the message is quite simple, let us all start with the small things like tolerance and respect for one another in our school and this then helps stop the growth of hatred and intolerance in the world around us.