On Monday (13 May) students from The Coleshill School heard testimony from Holocaust survivor, Uri Winterstein, as part of a visit organised by the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET).
The testimony was followed by a question and answer session to enable students to better understand the nature of the Holocaust and to explore its lessons in more depth. The visit was part of the Holocaust Educational Trust’s extensive all year round Outreach Programme, which is available to schools across the UK.
Ian Smith-Childs, headteacher, said:
It is a privilege for us to welcome Uri Winterstein to our school and his testimony will remain a powerful reminder of the horrors so many experienced. We are grateful to the Holocaust Educational Trust for coordinating the visit and we hope that by hearing Uri’s testimony, it will encourage our students to learn from the lessons of the Holocaust and make a positive difference in their own lives.”
Karen Pollock MBE, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, added:
The Holocaust Educational Trust educates and engages students from across the UK, from all communities about the Holocaust and there can be no better way than through the first-hand testimony of a survivor. Uri’s story is one of tremendous courage during horrific circumstances and by hearing his testimony, students will have the opportunity to learn where prejudice and racism can ultimately lead. At the Trust, we impart the history of the Holocaust to young people, to ensure that we honour the memory of those whose lives were lost and take forward the lessons taught by those who survived.”
For more information about the Holocaust Educational Trust please visit www.het.org.uk
About Uri Winterstein
Uri Winterstein was born in Bratislava, Slovakia in October 1943. His parents were both lawyers but his father’s main passion was the welfare of the Jewish community and he was very active in Jewish affairs from his university days to the end of his life.
When Uri was only a month old, his parents put him in the care of a non-Jewish woman, and he was not reunited with his family until after the war. They did so because they realised that it would be very difficult to keep a baby quiet if they needed to go into hiding, an eventuality for which they felt they always had to be prepared.
Nine of Uri’s wider family were sent to Auschwitz, where they were killed. During the War, Uri’s father was a member of an underground movement known as the Working Group, whose biggest single achievement was to halt the deportation of Jews from Slovakia for almost two years (from October 1942 to late September 1944). They achieved this by bribing key SS officers and government officials.
In autumn 1944, Uri’s father was deported to Theresienstadt, a concentration camp in what is today the Czech Republic. His mother and sister managed to evade being deported as well that day, and went into hiding underground. However, they were eventually caught and also sent to Theresienstadt.
When the Russian army was approaching Bratislava, the family Uri was with decided to flee and gave him to a local peasant woman to look after. This woman did not wish to be bothered with the care of a child and Uri received little attention. When he was reunited with his family at the end of the war, aged 19 months old, he could not walk or talk at all and ate only a roll dipped in coffee, the food he had eaten during his stay with the peasant woman. Despite this, without the minimal care she gave him, he could not have survived.
After the war, life returned to a semblance of normality. Following the takeover of Czechoslovakia by the Communists in 1948, his family left the country and ended up in Brazil, where Uri grew up.
Uri’s parents tried to protect him by not dwelling on the past but focusing on the future, and he thought that he had escaped any trauma. However, when about 15 years ago he was asked to do a reading at a Holocaust Memorial event, he broke down in the middle of the reading and wept uncontrollably. He then realised that his and his family’s experiences during the Holocaust had affected him more than he had imagined.
Uri is married and has two daughters, a son and five grandchildren. He lives in Chiswick and has been speaking in schools for the Trust since 2013.