Holocaust survivor Helen Aronson, one of only 750 Jews who miraculously survived the Lodz ghetto, spoke to a hushed audience of 49 pupils who attended Holocaust Memorial Day at Mosaic Reform on Wednesday.
She spoke movingly of her father, who was tragically gassed at Chelmno concentration camp, together with all of her home-town’s children, whom he had volunteered to accompany, as well as her lucky survival, with her mother and brother who were all slave workers.
Based on the Northwood Holocaust Memorial Education Day, which has united a number of synagogues and reached out to over 3,000 youngsters in the past decade, the day included a Holocaust Memorial Trust film and workshops where youngsters were encouraged to take part and think about all the aspects of the Holocaust.
Helen was born in Pabjanice, near Lodz, Poland on 24 April 1927. In May 1942 all the Jews from Pabjanice were evacuated to the notorious Lodz ghetto. Helen, who went in, at the age of 12, with around 200,000 people, said: “It’s a miracle that I am alive. At the end we hid in an underground bunker. It was twelve below zero and we had no food.”
Mosaic Reform rabbi, Kathleen de Magtige-Middleton, said: “All of us are unique in some way or other. We all value people for being who they are. When those differences are not valued, then discrimination creeps in and can get out of control.”
At the end pupils from Preston Manor School, Wembley, John Lyon, Harrow-on-the-Hill and Queen’s Park Community school, Brent, wrote their feelings and what they had learned on postcards which were passed on to Helen who lit a memorial candle during a minute’s silence.
Here are extracts from the postcards that the students wrote to Helen:
“To have a verbal explanation from a survivor was truly amazing” – Rayaan, The John Lyon School
“It really showed me how poorly people were being treated and how their human rights were taken” – Adam, The John Lyon School
“You made me realise how important it is to not take my family, home etc for granted. I have also now understood how simple words can lead to such disastrous events” – Saira, Preston Manor
“You should not discriminate people for who they are or be a bystander” – Ayah, Preston Manor
“I learnt today that experiences from the Holocaust should help the modern world to prevent this from happening and no matter what races, gender, sexuality everyone should be treated equally” – Siddeeq, Preston Manor
“I myself am from the Darfur region of Sudan and have seen the horrors of genocide. I admired your courage and bravery of sitting at the front and speaking” – Nazik, Queens Park