Survivor of the Holocaust tells pupils his story

Students from Westley Middle School were visited by Holocaust survivor, Harry Bilbring.
Students from Westley Middle School were visited by Holocaust survivor, Harry Bilbring.

A Holocaust survivor has urged students to stand up against prejudice during a talk at Westley School in Bury St Edmunds.

Last Thursday, around 100 students from the school, which is part of the Bury All-Through Trust, listened as Harry Bibring, who was born in Vienna in 1925, spoke for two hours about living under Nazi rule in Austria before fleeing to England in 1939.

“We need to talk about it because, whether we like it or not, it’s still happening. You only need to look at Syria to see that” Harry said.

“I wanted to come and talk to the children today to ask them to stand up to prejudice so that their grandchildren stand a chance in the world.”

He told stories of how, as Jews, he and his sister, Gerty, had been thrown out of the local ice skating rink, swimming pools and cinemas and had been forced to go to another school.

He also recounted his memories of Kristallnacht and the Nazis burning down the synagogue where his family had worshipped.

He showed the children his identity card and boarding pass from his journey to England, as well as letters to and from his parents, who stayed behind in Austria and eventually died – his father of a heart attack on the way to a concentration camp and his mother in a gas chamber at the Sobibor extermination camp.

His visit was organised by the Holocaust Educational Trust which seeks to raise awareness and understanding of the Holocaust and its relevance today in schools.

Headteacher Nick Templeton said: “It is a privilege for us to welcome Harry Bibring 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 co-ordinating the visit and we hope that by hearing Harry’s testimony, it will enocurage our students to learn from the lessons of the Holocaust and make a positive difference in their own lives.”

The visit was the culmination of a six week programme during which the students learned about the Holocaust and Harry’s story in PSHE and RE classes.

Rallou Wareham, head of PSHE and RE, said: “I think a lot of what is happening today links back to what happened then. It’s important that the children understand the politics of it and that humanity can be so cruel to each other. They need to be able to recognise it and do something about it.”

The children had each prepared questions to ask Harry at the end of his talk but ran out of time to do so. But they enjoyed the experience nonetheless.

Millie Bragg, 12, said: “I thought he was really inspirational. He really wants to spread the word about what happened and I think that that’s a really good thing. His point that we should never forget was really big.”

Tanya Rajayogan, 12, said: “I thought it was a very important and interesting chat about what happened. It’s important because some people don’t even believe the Holocaust really happened so he plays a vital role in telling us.”