The Holocaust Memorial Conference Friday 25th January 2013
As part of a Gifted and Talented initiative at West Walsall E-ACT Academy the History Department organised a trip to Keele University, Staffordshire on Friday 25th January 2013 to enable Year 9 Gifted and Talented students to participate in a Holocaust Memorial Conference. The students, accompanied by Mr Jackson and Miss Lloyd, attended a lecture on Scientists of the Holocaust by Doctor Jane Essex, joined in workshops organised by the Holocaust Educational Trust and had the privilege to listen to a talk by Susan Pollock who survived being sent to Auschwitz, the infamous Nazi Death camp, where over one million Jews were gassed during the Second World War. Other groups of people who died there included approximately 150,000 Polish political prisoners, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war, 23,000 Gypsy families and 25,000 other civilians: Lithuanians, Czechs, French, Yugoslavs, Germans, Austrians, and Italians.
Susan began her talk by describing her life as a young girl growing up in the village of Felsogod in Hungary in 1943. She explained the discrimination her father had in finding work once his business was closed down; and her brother’s frustration that, because he was Jewish, he was not allowed to go to university. In late 1943, when she was 13, her father was one of many men rounded up and taken away on a ‘resettlement programme’ and, as far as she knows, was killed by the fascists. The next day, Susan, her mother and brother were told they had to leave their home. They baked fresh bread and took whatever belongings they could carry with them. The family were sent to a ghetto before being transported in railway cattle trucks, along with hundreds of other people, to Auschwitz. “Day after day in a locked wagon, only one bucket of water to drink and another bucket to use as a toilet. There was no fresh air. Many people died on the journey”.
On arrival in May 1944 her mother was gassed. Her elder brother Laszlo survived, despite his ordeal moving bodies “from the gas chambers to the oven”. Susan’s memories of Auschwitz were “we were treated worse than animals. Auschwitz was a place of terror”. Susan survived selection at the hands of Doctor Josef Mengele, the infamous ‘Angel of Death’, by being sent to another slave labour camp before being force-marched to Bergen-Belsen in the winter of 1944-45 from where she was finally freed by British soldiers in April 1945. “On liberation, I was virtually a corpse, unable to walk, and would soon have died”. Susan has been married to Abraham, also a Holocaust survivor, for more than 50 years and they have three daughters. She has been giving talks on The Holocaust for the past 15 years. “Because I was there, I speak for those who can’t, who died. We are not going to be around very long so I’ve got to say what I can.” Her testimony tells people of the dangers of a “dark and evil side of humanity…to show what discrimination, no matter how small, might lead to” and the need to live in a free society with equal human rights for all.
All the students from West Walsall E-Act Academy acquitted themselves admirably throughout the day. Despite being the youngest students there (all the other groups were Year 10 and 11 GCSE students) they were not afraid to ask and answer lots of questions and more than held their own in the role play activity. I was very proud of them all. Mr. S. Jackson
‘The day at Keele University was in my opinion superb. The group started with a session from Dr Jane Essex, a scientist from the university who introduced us to several scientists of the holocaust and the role they played. It was very interesting how Dr Essex linked their work to the Holocaust in a mixture of role play and interaction with the students. The next workshop from the Educational Trust used pictures of artefacts from the camps to highlight the atrocity of the Holocaust. The highlight undoubtedly for me was the talk from Susan Pollock, an Auschwitz survivor, who relayed an extremely poignant and distressing story of her life in Hungary to her eventual liberation from a concentration camp. It was captivating to listen to her tell a story she had told hundreds of times but she made you feel it was the first time she had told it. A truly worthwhile school trip which was enjoyed by all’. Miss S. Lloyd
‘I found the day very inspiring, from all the extra facts we picked up about the Holocaust to the survivors story from Susan Pollock. Without experiencing the day out to Keele, I don’t think I would ever have thought about the Holocaust in such a shocking, but interesting way. Listening to Susan Pollock giving her speech about her unfortunate childhood was a real privilege as there are not that many survivors left in the world any more. She taught me that people should “never hide away, but to always have your say” because most bystanders hid away while six million Jews and millions of other people were murdered by the Nazis! I will keep her words with me for my rest of my life’. Sabah A, Year 9
‘We started the day looking at the relationship between science and the Holocaust, and how scientists helped make the Holocaust possible. I enjoyed this activity not only because it was an interesting topic, but because we took part in a role-play where we were put in the positions of Jewish children at the time, and if we got an answer right we were given two slices of bread and some soup which was a whole days ration of food for the inmates of the labour detail in a concentration camp!
I enjoyed the university experience, and was rather awed by the sizes of the classroom, but not intimidated. I was quite comfortable working there and was not afraid to put my hand up to answer a question even though everyone else on the course was much older than us!
We all knew from our work in History lessons what the Holocaust was, and how sensitive a topic it is, but when Susan Pollock, the Holocaust survivor, spoke so strongly of the horrors that went on in Auschwitz, the camp she was sent to, it was both moving and rather upsetting. To know that the woman standing in front of you actually went through all that she did at the age of 13 was amazing. She wouldn’t be here with us today if it wasn’t for one inmate who told her to lie about her age to the Nazi’s and say that she was 15; if she hadn’t they would have taken her straight to the Gas Chambers. Talk about being close to death! Luckily for her she was sent to Belsen concentration camp where she survived long enough until the camp was liberated by the British army’.
We must remember the mistakes that we made in the past because “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it”. Ayanteh M, Year 9
‘The day at Keele University was very interesting. I really enjoyed Susan Pollock who was a survivor of the Holocaust and how she told us about what happened to her and about what happened at the camps. I am grateful that I was chosen to go. I would go again if I got the chance’. Rachel J, Year 9
‘Keele university was a great experience. We took a look around the university and some student guides showed us a bit what university life would be like. In the role play we learned about the holocaust and how science was related to it. We were numbered just like the Jews were before being given a sheet with information about a scientist on it. We had to work out how that scientist was affected by the Holocaust. We also listened to a survivor’s speech; her name was Susan Pollock and she talked about her journey to the death camp and how she survived Auschwitz. This was my favourite part of the day’. Chloe A, Year 9
‘It was good to see what a university was like, especially when we got to go to the Student Union. We took part in numerous activities during the day. We learnt about the science behind the Holocaust, about the different types of badges that were handed out to the prisoners at concentration camps and we got to see what lecture rooms were like at university. My favourite part of the day was when the Holocaust survivor talked to us about what had happened to her at the camps, what it was like, and how she managed to survive’. Stuart P, Year 9
‘I was lucky to have this chance as it is the first time that I have visited a university. I enjoyed the workshops and the different artefacts like photos from the camps and when we had to decide if they belonged to a Bystander, Perpetrator or Resistor or if that person was somewhere in between. After lunch, we went into the ball room where we were very fortunate to be able to listen to an actual survivor; her story was very emotional when she told us of the hardships of life in the concentration camps. Because of their age we will be the last generation that will have the opportunity to meet Holocaust survivors. It made me realise how grateful we should be to the people who stood up against the Nazis during World War Two and how lucky we are to be living at a civilized time like today’. Liam H, Year 9
Keele University was amazing. We attended a workshop on scientists of the Holocaust and a lecture about the laws which the Nazis passed against the Jewish Race but the most interesting part of the day was the survivor’s story. Her name was Susan and she told us everything that happened from her point of view. It was the most interesting thing I have ever listened to in my whole life. The way she was treated was devastating but she carried on with her life and stands here today, helping people like me, understand the Holocaust from so many angles. Hayley P, Year 9