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Holocaust Memorial Day

Year 12 students attended the Wirral Commemoration of the Holocaust Memorial day at the Floral Pavilion

Holocaust memorial day

On the 27th January every year we remember the genocide of approximately six million European Jews through a systematic state-sponsored extermination by the Nazi regime during WWII.  Holocaust Memorial Day has been held in the UK since 2001 and was declared an International event in November 2005 by the United Nations.  

The 27th January is the anniversary of the liberation of the largest Nazi killing camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, by the Soviet Union in 1945.  It is marked through a week’s long series of events.  On Wednesday 2nd February 2011 a group of Mosslands Year 12 History students were fortunate enough to attend the Wirral Commemoration of Holocaust Memorial Day at The Floral Pavilion, New Brighton.  At this event students and their teachers were privileged enough to hear a firsthand account of the experiences of a Holocaust survivor, Rudi Oppenheimer.  Rudi is the younger brother of Paul Oppenheimer who passed away in 2007 and spoke openly about his experiences to seven generations of Wirral students.  It was after Paul’s death that Rudi himself agreed to continue the talks to ensure that the next generation could hear their story.  

Rudi Oppenheimer was born in Berlin in 1931 into a typical middle-class family of assimilated Jews.  With the Rudi Oppenheimer advent of Hitler and the Nazis, life became increasingly difficult for all Jewish people living in Germany.  Furthermore, it was also incredibly hard for Jewish families to leave Germany.  Fortunately for Rudi, his father was able to transfer from the Mendelssohn Bank, Berlin to their branch office in Amsterdam in 1936.  When German troops invaded Holland in 1940 Rudi’s family avoided deportation because his father worked for the Jewish Council.  However, in 1943 they were captured and sent to Westbrook and then later on to Bergen-Belsen.  At this time Rudi was just twelve years of age.  Rudi and his brother finished up on the ‘Last train from Belsen’ before liberation occurred and after the war they were moved back to England where they lived since 1945. 

The afternoon began with an official opening of Wirral Holocaust Memorial Day 2011 by the Mayor.  Following on from this we heard from Mark Parkinson, Head of Branch for Learning and Achievement who gave an opening address of ‘Untold Stories’, the 2011 theme.  This year they have focused upon this theme to ensure that ‘Untold Stories’ do not get lost or forgotten.  There are millions of narratives that we will never get to hear and it is for this reason that we listen and honour the memory of those that we still can.  It is these stories that will hopefully enable us to recognise the consequences of persecution and create a safer and better future. 

It was agreed by all our Mosslands students that the short talk given by Mark Parkinson was extremely interesting and shed light on how different countries remember those persecuted in the Holocaust.  He talked about his visit to Yad Vashem, Israel which was established in 1953 as the world centre for documentation, research, education and commemoration of the Holocaust.  It is vital that these places exist to safeguard the memory of the past and impart their meaning for future generations. 

Following on from this a ‘Statement of Commitment’ was read by pupils from a variety of Wirral schools accompanied by the lighting of memorial candles.  Andrew Mitchell, a student from the Yr 12 History group commented that he found the candle lighting ‘really effective’ and believes that ‘this can often hold more meaning than any kind of speech’.  The students believed it was important that names of other survivors ‘Untold Stories’ were read out but thought it would have been enhanced by giving a brief account of their experience too. 

A highly relatable part of the afternoon for many of the students was when Upton Hall School gave their experiences of visiting Auschwitz.  Adam Kirby was one of the boys that went with the Mosslands School to Poland last year and is a strong advocate of students gaining better understanding of historical places.  When speaking about his experience at Auschwitz he said ‘you can’t actually grasp how real a place is until you are there’.  Adam continually talked about the vastness of Auschwitz, a lot larger than he imagined it would be.  Furthermore, he emphasized the impact that the trip had on him.  Whilst at the site of Auschwitz they got to talk to the guide who continues to live in the local area.  Adam comments on how talking to the local people really shocked him, ‘these people simply took the situation as a reality’. 

The final and most heartening part of the afternoon was of course provided by Rudi Oppenheimer.  For one hour he captivated the audience with his story of what it was like for his Jewish family growing up during WWII.  Everybody in the room wanted to hear his story, to come closer to only imagining the true horrors that he faced.   Andrew and Adam both commented that one of the biggest reasons why they wanted to attend the afternoon was to ‘put a face to a story, to actually put the Holocaust into perspective’. 

Rudi took us on a journey of his life right from the beginning.  He talked about how he was hidden from the growing discontent in Germany as a child by his parents and only really became aware of the situation once in Holland.  It is here that he spent the happier years of his life with his family.  Once troops invaded Holland, Rudi talked about his life under German control.  He managed to keep an elevated tone, talk fondly of the school he attended and the places he played.  Later on Rudi told us about the conditions at Bergen-Belsen once they were deported.  He mentioned how he helped his family to survive by taking on the roll of serving food in camp to ensure they got what they needed.  Unfortunately, it was here that the children lost their parents and grandparents to death and where Paul and Rudi became separated from their sister, Eve for a short while.  Rudi talked briefly about his and his sibling’s life after the war up until today.  The students valued this and believe that continuing with his brothers story once he passed is highly credible. 

Students noted how Rudi was honest, warm and good-humoured whilst telling the audience of his experiences.  He spoke greatly of his family, the people he met and the places he lived.  He never talked of real hatred and blame, no matter how atrocious an event, the excluding and persecution became part of everyday life for millions of people. 

Overall the afternoon certainly accomplished its goal of providing the next generation with the opportunity to hear the stories of those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.  However, we now run the risk in the upcoming years of losing these invaluable stories as the WWII generation begin to pass away.  It is our role therefore to not shy away from these stories but instead listen and learn from them and tell others about what we know.   

Lower Sixth History Students

Lower Sixth History group



Written by Laura Corcoran.  Experiences of the afternoon given by Andrew Mitchell and Adam Kirby