Friday, 01 March 2013
Story by Ernest Simon
"What can you remember of the train journey?
"How did you feel when you were saying good-bye to your parents?
"Did you know why your parents sent you away?
"Do you hate the Germans?
These were just a few of the many questions which I had to answer after my talk on the last day of the annual Northwood Holocaust Memorial Day Events between end January and early February.
I spoke of my personal memories of the Kindertransport to an audience of about 120 teenage boys and girls, aged between 16 and 18, from Goffs School in Hertfordshire. My talk started with some information about my origins in Eisenstadt, Austria, well known as a place which welcomed Jews from the 17th Century onwards primarily because of the influence of the Esterhazy family. Eisenstadt had its ghetto, with a chain at each entrance to the ghetto to maintain the peace and calm of the Sabbath Day. Our life as relatively orthodox Jews in Eisenstadt was comfortable.
The Anschluss of March 1938 changed all that. The Nazi's objective was to rid Eisenstadt of all Jews and in September 1938 we were compelled to leave our home and belongings and move to a small rented flat in the 2nd District of Vienna – the "Jewish area" – from where my father tried to obtain a visa for either the USA or Palestine or England. The events of Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass, added urgency, so that when the opportunity arose of sending me to England on a Kindertransport, my parents were faced with this incredibly difficult decision – do we send him and risk never seeing him again or do we keep him with us and risk his fate at the hands of the Nazis? I was 8 years old and in January of 1939 I was taken to the Vienna Westbahnhof and put on a train to England. My wife and I have often wondered whether we would have had the courage to take such a step with our eight year old son.
Happily my story, unlike that of so many other Kindertransport children who never saw their parents again, had a happy conclusion. My parents together with my younger brother managed to get to England one month later and we were re-united as a family by 1941, after my father was interned on the Isle of Man for a year, after my brother and I lived with (very kind) foster parents and then in a hostel for refugee boys. We were alive and had every reason to be grateful to the British government which had allowed in some 10.000 children from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia at a time when the rest of the so-called civilised world – USA, Canada, Australia, etc. – turned their backs on the plight of European Jews.
Tuesday January 29th saw the start of the thirteenth annual Northwood Holocaust Memorial Day Events
, which now takes place over five days. It is organised jointly by Northwood United Synagogue
(NUS) and Northwood & Pinner Liberal Synagogue
(NPLS) and has the support of their respective Rabbis, Rabbi Moshe Freedman (NUS) and Rabbis Andrew and Aaron Goldstein (NPLS).
This is the largest event of its kind and it continues to grow each year. For the first time the events were extended for an additional day in Northwood to enable smaller workshops and to accommodate 2300 students from 40 schools in the London Borough of Harrow, Hertfordshire County Council and the London Borough of Hillingdon. This is a 20% increase in participants in these unique sessions and brings the total to over 28000 students who have attended these events since its inception.
On the first day at NUS, students from Watford Grammar Boys School, Berkhamstead and John Lyon, Harrow, heard from Harry Spiro who survived the horrors of the "death march", while at NPLS students from Emmbrook School, Wokingham heard of Bob Kirk's and his wife, Ann's, escape from Germany on the Kindertransport after that pogrom that became known as Kristallnacht.
At all sessions students participate in a workshop which enables them to form a valuable link between the historical facts about the Holocaust and its impact on contemporary issues such as racism, discrimination, bullying, persecution and citizenship. The timing of this year's event marks the seventieth anniversary of what was probably the peak of the Holocaust, a year after the Nazis decided on the "Final Solution" at Wannsee in January 1942 and before the War turned decisively against them at the battle of Kursk in 1943.
By taking inspiration from the past, celebrating difference and ensuring respect for all people we can "Build a Bridge" in our communities and help to create a safer, better future.
Ziggy Schipper, together with, from l. to r. the Mayor of Harrow, Chairman of Watford Council, Rabbi Moshe Freedman, the Mayor of Hertsmere and the Mayor of Hillingdon
I had spoken on previous occasions about my Kindertransport experiences, both to adult organizations such as Rotary Clubs and also to schools under the auspices of the Holocaust Education Trust, but this was my first time as one of the speakers of the annual Northwood event. The experience is memorable from a number of points of view:
- There is a calm efficiency about the team of volunteers and facilitators
- They are absolutely devoted to the cause of Holocaust education
- The students are totally absorbed in what they hear and ask excellent questions
- This is an operation run jointly
by Northwood United Synagogue and Northwood and Pinner Liberal Synagogue.
After each talk and question session, the pupils are handed a postcard and asked to address a few words to the speaker whom they have just heard, expressing their thoughts and feelings about the subject. What they have to say is generally very instructive. Here are a few such cards chosen at random.
I hope that I shall have the opportunity of being part of this for many years to come.