Testimony from a Holocaust Survivor
On Wednesday 9 January, students from the Third Form were privileged to hear testimony from a Holocaust survivor, Mr Rudi Oppenheimer, as part of a visit organised by the Holocaust Educational Trust. This was the first time that Rudi had visited us.
His testimony was followed by a question and answer session that enabled 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.
Introducing Mr Oppenheimer, Mr Morgan from the History department explained how the current political climate has made it more important than ever to learn from events such as the Holocaust. He hoped that Mr Oppenheimer’s testimony would remind staff and students to reflect on the suffering of others.
Rudi was born in 1931 in Berlin and lived there with his parents and his older brother Paul until he was four years old. In 1936, to escape increasing Nazi persecution, the Oppenheimers managed to move to Holland. Before they moved to Heemstede in Holland, Rudi lived for six months in Britain with his mother and brother. It was here that his sister, Eve, was born.
In May 1940 the Nazis invaded Holland. By October 1942, Jews were being rounded up and deported. Rudi and his family, who had been living in Amsterdam since May 1942, were temporarily spared deportation as his father was working for the Jewish Council.
As Eve had been born in the UK, Rudi’s father registered her in June 1942 as a British subject. Rudi`s family were now classified as ‘exchange’ Jews, which meant that they might be exchanged for Germans captured by the Allies and were to be exempt from certain measures taken against other Jews. This allowed Rudi and his family to remain in Westerbork until February 1944, at which point they were deported to Bergen-Belsen in Germany.
As exchange Jews, Rudi and his family received certain privileges in Bergen-Belsen. Nevertheless, the family suffered terrible living conditions and in January 1945, Rudi’s mother died, followed two months later by the death of his father.
On 10 April 1945, the Oppenheimer children were on the last train to leave Bergen-Belsen. After travelling for 14 days they awoke on the train to find that the SS guards had gone; they recognised soldiers from the Russian army and realised that they had been liberated.
The Oppenheimers had family in London, so it was here that they headed to join their uncle and aunt. Rudi is now retired and talks regularly about his wartime experiences in schools and universities across the country.
Both staff and students praised the nature of Mr Oppenheimer’s testimony. It was an interesting, personal and thought-provoking account. After his testimony, Mr Oppenheimer received an ovation from the staff and students, before being presented with a gift.
It was a privilege for us to welcome Mr Oppenheimer to our school for a first time 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 Mr Oppenheimer’s testimony, it will encourage our students to learn from the lessons of the Holocaust and make a positive difference in their own lives.
Mr Oppenheimer offered copies of his brother’s book, From Belsen to Buckingham, which provides an account of the experiences of the Oppenheimer family. If anyone who is interested in purchasing a copy, they are available at many online retailers. Anyone who wishes to purchase the book via the History department at RGS can do so by sending payment of £5.00 to Mr. Morgan by Friday 25 January.