Our Y8 boys were privileged to hear the testimony of Holocaust survivor, Steven Frank BEM, as part of a visit organised by the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET) on Tuesday 11 June.
Steven was just seven years old in 1943 when his father, who worked for the Dutch Resistance helping Jews escape to a safer life, was captured by the Nazis. He and his family went into hiding before they heard the news that his father had been taken to a Nazi prison where he was tortured before being sent to Auschwitz, where he was killed. At that point, the family were deported to a camp in the Netherlands, and his early childhood as a Jewish prisoner began.
The boys heard from Steven how he, as a young boy, saw and remembered his experiences – from the first camp he was taken to with his mother and brothers: a castle with no fences or guards, and from which no one tried to escape, to the next in Westerbork with barbed-wire and watchtowers. Described as ‘an Auschwitz made of wood’, the Westerbork camp was overcrowded and rife with illness and lice. The boys heard how there was no school, little sleep (as nights were spent with the 660 people who shared each barracks) and how they lived with the fear of being on the weekly list of those being sent to Poland.
In 1944, Steven and his family’s names were on the list and they were taken on a 39-hour train journey, crammed in a pitch black cattle truck, to Theresienstadt in Poland. Here they joined 44,000 Jews in a camp that was designed to house 8,000 soldiers. Shortly after arrival, Steven and his brother were sent to a children’s home where they were occasionally able to see their mother.
Steven described how appalling the conditions were, from the overcrowding to the hunger to people dying in such numbers, to the terror of finding out about the gas chambers. He also spoke of the little things that brightened their days, from warming used batteries for a little torchlight against the pitch black nights to simple games with friends to the scraps of extra food collected and shared by their mother.
On 2 September 1945, the war ended and Steven and his family were liberated by the Russian army. Shockingly, of the 15,000 children taken to Theresienstadt, only 93 survived.
When asked of his experience of the camps by the boys, Steven told them that the worst thing was that he “learned how to hate” and how it was “a cancer of the mind”. He went on to say, “You cannot be at peace until you forgive, there is no room for hatred.” Today he gives these talks to remember “all those children who never came home.”
Miss Williams, Head of RE in the Prep School, said, “We were so privileged to hear Steven’s testimony. It will no doubt remain a powerful reminder of the horrors so many experienced. I am very grateful to the Holocaust Educational Trust for co-ordinating the visit, and hope that, by hearing Steven’s testimony, it will encourage our boys to reflect on and 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. Steven’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.”