Holocaust Memorial Day: A survivor’s story

Monday, January 27, 2020

Holocaust Memorial Day today marks 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz, the largest Nazi concentration camp that saw the genocide of 1.1 million Jews.

Uri Winterstein, who survived the Holocaust, tells talkRADIO his story.

The reason we mark anniversaries, of course, is to remember things and what can be more important than remembering the worst tragedy, man-made tragedy that history has really known?

So I think it’s very important, it becomes more important with each passing year.

Because the fact is, each generation has to learn anew the dangers of extremism, the dangers of extreme ideas, of intolerance.

The generation after the war didn’t have to have a lesson – they had seen it, they had witnessed it, they knew all about it. But the further we get away from it, the more important it is.

The Germans announced in March 1942 that they were going to slowly start the deportation of the Jews in Slovakia. The only thing they said was that the Jews would be taken to the East, without specifying where, to a new life.

Well we now know where the East was, to places like Auschwitz and others and what the new life actually meant – Nazi’s always spoke in euphemisms.

Nine of Mr Winterstein's family members were killed in Auschwitz. He was born two years before the end of the Second World War and spent time being raised by a non-Jewish family for his own protection.

This was clearly a very difficult decision for any parent to do, but my parents were aware that they might need to go into hiding at very short notice – they had a plan in their back pockets ready for that – and that it would be impossible to hide with an infant.

You can hide with a child, although my mother told me that it was difficult to explain to my sister who was six years older than me, why she had to be quiet when there was a German Army search underway near the hiding place.

When eventually I was reunited with my parents and I assume it took them maybe a few weeks to eventually come back, I grew up in a normal household, I felt I had loving parents, a sister and so as a child I was unaware of the baggage we were carrying.

It was only when I was a little bit older, I think probably around eight, nine years old or so, that my mother started to tell me things because she’d be aware that I might to start to hear things about the holocaust from other sources so she should be the first source I heard from.

My father was deported first and by a bit of humanity from a German officer who actually was deporting all of them, he actually agreed to my mother’s request to leave my sister behind – my parents thought my sister had a better chance of survival not going with them to a camp.

And this officer actually went further and said: "We’ll let the girl stay and someone needs to look after her, we’ll leave the mother as well", so this act my sister feels saved her life.

Mr Winterstein now works to educate about the tragedy with the Holocaust Educational Trust.

The work that the Holocaust Educational Trust is doing is so important because it’s trying to educate the next generation.

When I was young we did believe the world was a better place – the world had been so shocked. But that shock wears off, the new generation has no shock so we need to remind them.

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