14/07/20

RS Department – Online Seminar with a Holocaust Survivor | Newsletter

Year 10 students, as part of their general RE studies, have taken part in a webinar with Dr. Martin Stern, a survivor of Westerbork and Theresienstadt concentration camps.

The Year 10 students normally take part in an RE day, in which the study the Holocaust and the philosophical problem of evil. As part of this day, Mindu Hornick (the last remaining survivor of Auschwitz in the Midlands)usually gives a speech about her experiences and the girls have the opportunity to ask questions.

However, as this is not possible under the current circumstances, the National Holocaust Centre offered the students an opportunity to engage in a live webinar with Dr. Martin Stern. This was publicised to all Year 10 students and almost immediately over 30 girls expressed an interest. The Holocaust Centre sent out some preparatory reading and reflection questions, which were distributed to the students. The reading included a synopsis of Martin’s story and the students were asked to reflect on what it means to be a bystander and an upstander.

The live session was held at 11:00 am on Thursday 11th June, with over 30 students and three members of staff in attendance. Martin spoke about a section of his story, in which he recounted his experiences of being discovered by the Nazis who were occupying the Netherlands at that time. His father went into hiding when Martin was a small child, and only re-appeared when his mother went into labour with his younger sister. His father then left again after the birth of his sister, and shortly afterwards his mother developed an infection and died. After the loss of both his parents, Martin was being cared for by his neighbours. His guardians claimed that Martin was their own son and even took him to church to hide the fact that Martin was Jewish. One day when Martin was at elementary school, two Nazi officers entered the classroom and asked for Martin Stern. In an attempt to protect Martin, his teacher said that he had not attended school that day. However, as Martin was too young to understand, he raised his hand and made himself known to the Nazi officers. He was immediately removed from the class and interrogated, and subsequently he was sent to Westerbork concentration camp.

The girls asked many perceptive questions, both relating to this part of Martin’s story and to the Holocaust generally. Martin answered these in detail, and in particular he described how Theresienstadt had previously been a walled town which was used by the Nazis to conceal the treatment of the Jews in concentration camps. When the Red Cross came to visit, the layout was changed to look like an ordinary town, and the inmates were forced to send postcards to their relatives to lie about the horrors of the concentration camp. Martin also talked at length about random acts of kindness by other prisoners in the camp, which made his experience more bearable.

The students were very grateful to Martin for giving up his time to answer their questions. Martin was so impressed with the questions that he has agreed to lead another session with the girls in the near future.

A link to Martin’s story can be accessed here:

https://www.hmd.org.uk/resource/martin-stern/

 

Dr Clewlow, SL for RE