The Holocaust was a defining period in history. Taking place during the Second World War (1939-1945), the Nazi regime murdered six million Jews, as well as anyone who was homosexual, physically and mentally disabled, Roma gypsies, or political opponents. This list is not exhaustive. It is endless. According to Hitler and his followers, anyone who did not fit their ideal ‘Aryan race’ were racially inferior and stood in the way of Germany’s success. It was not difficult for him to rally support, given the impact of the Treaty of Versailles, the Wall Street Crash and the Great Depression, people were looking for a strong leader. Using effective propaganda (along with many other things), people were convinced.
This unforgettable period in history must continue to be taught to commemorate the lives lost and prevent it from reoccurring. Being Jewish, I inevitably feel a connection to the Holocaust, knowing that my ancestors lived through this horrific time, experiencing the most appalling antisemitism, extreme violence, and even worse, first-hand experience of the concentration camps.
We are lucky enough to be in a society where survivors from the many countries impacted by WWII and the Holocaust have come forward to retell their experiences including being forced to leave their homes at young ages, being sent to concentration camps, go into hiding and/or being sent to live with strangers. I think they are all an inspiration, each with their own unique story to tell, to help educate us and understand the events of this historic period.
It is not just for the Jews to learn about these events, everyone should, and as the number of survivors we have decreases, it is becoming increasingly vital for the younger generation to keep it alive to ensure it is never forgotten. Learning about the Holocaust it’s unavoidable to feel a sense of anger and sadness but, it makes me feel proud to be Jewish. To know where we are today and where we’ve come from is empowering. Of course, whilst antisemitism is still present (and there’s no doubt that it will ever fully be eradicated), Jews worldwide come together to celebrate their heritage and showcase their pride.
We will never be able to fully understand what they experienced or what they saw, but through their stories, we can learn about this significant period of history and continue their legacy.
When working in the archives at Holocaust Centre North, so many of the items showed survivors moving to Yorkshire in the North of England, near to where I am from. I went through the items from people with G-K surnames. It felt incredible to see that many of them went on to become teachers at the primary school that I went to (and then their children also attended the school), one became a midwife at the hospital where I was born, and another held a funeral at my synagogue. And this was only just the G-K people. Imagine many of the other archives will contain similar things waiting to be discovered. To know that these people escaped from such horror and went on to live happier lives and become successful people in the area where I am from is truly inspiring.
I have been lucky enough to meet and hear the story of survivor Mala Tribich, born in Poland in 1930. Mala was only 9 years old when the war started and experienced things that no 9-year-old should ever have to; from living in ghettos, to living with strangers and then being transported to concentration camps. After the war, Mala contacted remaining family members and decided to move to England, where she now offers her testimony whenever she can, which has allowed Holocaust education to grow in a meaningful and educational way. Hearing Mala’s story really highlighted the extreme treatment of Jews regardless of age. To know that she, along with millions of others, were ordinary people with a job, a family, a life, which was all stripped away from them.
Hearing their stories is a privilege and a powerful experience. Right now, most survivors are of an old age and their memories may be going, therefore, it is our duty to preserve them so that they can be used to teach future generations about the Holocaust. It is not easy to access these memories. Memories that were life-altering, traumatic and damaging. Listening to their testimonies and hearing each person’s own story will help us further our knowledge on the Holocaust and ensure that their legacy is never forgotten.
I recently visited Yad Vashem in Israel. Yad Vashem is the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre located in Jerusalem which attracts over a million visitors each year. There are so many interesting documents, testimonies, images, peoples’ belongings, and personal items and so much more to see, but the main thing that stuck with me was The Hall of Names. A memorial dedicated to each individual Jew murdered during the Holocaust. A picture of each person (where available) circles the room, pictures which were submitted by survivors, family members or friends to honour the lives lost. Seeing the pictures on such a large scale really put into perspective just how many people were murdered. We know the number of 6 million, but to actually put a face to each number, to visualise just how many people 6 million actually is, was striking.
My family, being Jewish, were more than likely involved in the Holocaust. Unfortunately, all I know is that my great-grandfather was born in Vienna. However, a close friend of my grandpa, called Sandi is a second-generation survivor, as both her parents were survivors from the Holocaust. I was given the opportunity to chat with her to find out about her mother and father and their experiences.
Both of her parents came to England on the Kindertransport. Her mother, born in Vienna was aged 13 and came with her 8-year-old brother. Her father, born in Danzig (now Gdansk in Poland) came alone at 12 years old. Their arrival in England wasn’t easy as before finding a more permanent home, they went to various places around England, and it wasn’t until 1941/2 where her mother both ended up in a Jewish Hostel for refugees in Birmingham, after the couple who lived there decided to convert their large house into a hostel for refugees aged 16/17. She told me that growing up, she would ask ‘Did you never question where your parents were?’ or ‘If you would ever be able to go back?’. Since they were forced to leave their parents and their homes with little to no warning and at such young ages, you would expect them to be full of questions like those. But Sandi told me her mother would say that nobody ever questioned it, it became the norm to live with strangers, so everyone just got on with life. From living in this hostel, Sandi’s mother and father met and were just one of a few couples who met their partner there. In 1948, Sandi’s parents moved to Leeds.
Working at Holocaust Centre North and being in the exhibition full of artefacts and items of survivors, I wondered if Sandi and/or her parents had anything, too. Sadly, her mother was unable to bring any belongings with her on the Kindertransport. However, when the war started, the family’s maid was asked to look after their silver during the war. The only item left was a Menorah, which Sandi has today.
This is why Holocaust education must go on forever. Being one of the most important events in history, it is something that cannot and should not be forgotten. I have always been drawn to history, in particular, Germany, Nazism and the Holocaust and being Jewish, I felt an even stronger appeal to it, to learn about the events leading up to Hitler’s appointment, and into his leadership as a dictator. Of course, the learning experience will be different for each person. Jewish people are more likely to feel connected to it, hearing stories of and from family members, perhaps having ancestors involved in the war, whereas non-Jewish people may not feel that strong connection as much. Both are equally as important. This is why we must continue to learn about the Holocaust and continue the legacy of survivors.
Amy recently carried out a work experience placement with us and wrote this piece in reflection of her time with us.