Borehamwood & Elstree Synagogue welcomes over 100 students to Holocaust Memorial Day event
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Thursday 9th February 2017

On 30 January, Borehamwood & Elstree United Synagogue welcomed 113 students from local schools to mark Holocaust Memorial Day.

Participating schools included Haberdashers’ Girls School (Elstree), Hertswood Academy (Borehamwood), Nicholas Breakspear (Borehamwood), Chancellors (Hatfield) and Purcell School (Bushey). The year 9 to 13 students took part in an educational workshop relating historical facts about the Holocaust to contemporary issues such as racism, discrimination, persecution and citizenship. They then had the rare opportunity to listen to Holocaust survivors Harry Olmer (pictured) and Leslie Kleinman recount their personal stories first-hand. The session concluded with closing reflections from the synagogue’s Rabbi, a minute’s silence and the lighting of a memorial candle.

Following the outbreak of war, the 12-year old Harry ended up in Plaszow Concentration Camp near Krakow, which became infamous following the Spielberg film Schindler’s List. In 1943, he was moved to Skarzysko munitions factory, where he was forced to pour liquid sulphur into bomb shells. In July 1944, he was sent to the Buchenwald Concentration Camp before finally being transferred to Theresienstadt, where he was liberated by the Russian Army on 8 May 1945. After the war, the Central British Fund, an Anglo Jewish Relief organisation, brought Harry, and several hundred other youngsters who had miraculously survived the camps, to Windermere to recuperate and begin the road to reintegration into life.

Leslie Kleinman and his family were forced into the ghetto before being deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Although Leslie was only 14, he said that he was older and was selected for work. He was separated from the rest of his family who were all taken straight to the gas chamber – except for one sister. At Auschwitz-Birkenau, Leslie was put to work building a railway and later unloading bags of cement from the trains. Towards the end of 1944, with the Red Army approaching, Leslie was sent on a death march to Sachsenhausen and then onto Flossenbürg concentration camp. After around three weeks, Leslie and the remaining prisoners were sent on a second death march, this time towards Dachau concentration camp, but before they arrived, Leslie and the other prisoners were liberated by American troops. While recovering in a monastery, Leslie learned that his one remaining sibling had died soon after liberation.

Philip Austin, head of the organising committee behind the Northwood Holocaust Memorial Day Events explained, "The theme of Holocaust Memorial Day 2017 is ‘How can life go on?’. Our wonderful survivor speakers, Harry Olmer and Leslie Kleinman gave their inspiring testimony to the students of how they endured the atrocities and made new lives in the UK.”

Borehamwood & Elstree Synagogue’s events were part of a bigger programme of Northwood Holocaust Memorial Day activities involving over 3,060 pupils representing almost 50 schools from Dacorum, Hertfordshire, the London Boroughs of Harrow and Hillingdon, Bedfordshire and Berkshire.  Now in its 16th year, the programme aims to educate students about Nazi atrocities, make a connection between the Holocaust and subsequent genocides and invite students to consider their personal responsibility to promote tolerance in today’s world. Some 31,000 pupils have participated to date.

Any school or college wishing to register their interest in taking part in a Holocaust Memorial event next year should email or call 08456 448 006