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Holocaust Memorial Day

February 12th, 2010

IMG_0239To mark Holocaust Memorial Day and as part of our ongoing UNICEF Rights Respecting School initiative, holocaust survivors Walter Kammerling and Zigi Shipper visited the school recently to give their testimonies.

Both of these events were hugely successful, bringing alive for students everything they have learnt in the curriculum whilst reinforcing the origins of ‘The Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ and ‘The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child’.

It is the rights and responsibilities in this convention that continue to be embedded at the heart of Harrow Way as we continue to work towards becoming a Rights Respecting School. 

Walter presented his testimony to Year 9 students and Year 10 UNICEF Peer Educators. Zigi gave his testimony to Year 10 students, Year 10 UNICEF Peer Educators and some Year 11 History Students.

Staff and students found both testimonies enthralling and extremely moving. In the words of one student:  ‘Thank you very much for your visit. Everyone was humbled by your talk.  I think you have more courage than I could ever imagine, to go through such an ordeal and still have a fulfilling life. You were inspirational to everyone, and people like you are helping to ensure that we will never stand by and let this happen again. Having heard your speech I feel very lucky for what I have……I felt sad just listening and I can’t begin to understand what repeating this must be like for you. Because of your efforts the Holocaust will never be forgotten or denied’.

These testimonies also help our Year 10 UNICEF Peer Educators to take forward their programme of teaching younger students about the origins of ‘The Rights of The Child’.

Walter Kammerling

Walter was born 1923 in Vienna. He was 14 when Nazi Germany occupied Austria. This was known as the Anschluss. Walter was witness to the events of 9/10 November, when across Germany and Austria Jewish synagogues, shops, businesses and homes were attacked and destroyed. Hundreds of Jewish men were arrested and sent to Dachau concentration camp and 94 Jews were murdered. This event has become known as Kristallnacht.

Walter’s parents decided to send him to Britain on the Kindertransport. The age limit for Kindertransport was 16, and Walter was 15. His sisters being 17 and 18 could not join him. The eldest managed to get a domestic permit where the lower age limit was 18. She arrived in Britain on 4th July 1939. The younger sister, however, was too old for the Kindertransport and too young to get a domestic work permit. She had to stay in Vienna and was sent to Theresienstadt and subsequently to Auschwitz.

Walter’s father was sent to Auschwitz on 29th September 1944 and his mother and sister on 23rd October 1944. This was the penultimate transport to Auschwitz, just 3 months before Auschwitz was liberated.

Walter arrived at Dovercourt, a summer holiday camp which was not used at that time of year. He was there until February 1939 when he was sent to a farm in Northern Ireland.

Walter worked on the farm for 3 years. Walter had to report to the police, but as farming was a ‘reserved occupation’ (important for the war effort) he was not interned as other ‘enemy aliens’ were.

Walter joined the British Army in March 1944. Whilst on embarkation leave, Walter married Herta, who also came from Vienna on a Kindertransport, but they only met in London in 1942.

Walter was sent to Belgium and then Holland in December 1944.

After the war, Walter discovered that his parents and sister had been sent from Theresienstadt to Auschwitz where they were murdered.

Walter and Herta returned to Austria in 1946 and had two sons. They returned to Britain in 1957.

Zigi Shipper

Zigi was born on 18 January 1930 to a Jewish family in Łodz, Poland and attended a Jewish school. When he was five years old his parents divorced but, because they were orthodox Jews and divorce was frowned upon, he was told that his mother had died. Following his parents’ divorce he lived with his father and his grandparents.

In 1939 when war broke out, Zigi’s father escaped from Poland to Russia, believing that it was only young Jewish men who were at risk, and not children or the elderly. However, in 1940 Zigi and his grandparents were sent to the Łodz ghetto. During this year his father attempted to return to see Zigi but could not get into the ghetto. Zigi never saw his father again and still does not know what happened to him.

In 1941 all children, elderly and disabled people, including Zigi and his grandmother, were rounded up and put on lorries to be deported from the ghetto. Zigi managed to jump off the lorry and escaped back into the ghetto where he remained, working in the metal factory, until the ghetto’s liquidation in 1944. When the ghetto was liquidated, all of the people from the metal factory were put onto cattle trucks and sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau. On arrival, they were sent to the showers, where they were stripped, shaved and showered. Everyone else from the ghetto had to go through a Selektion, where a Nazi officer decided who was fit enough to work and those who should die immediately. Within an hour of the selection, those from Zigi’s transport who were not classed as fit for work had been killed.

A few weeks after arriving at Auschwitz-Birkenau, all of the surviving workers from the metal factory were sent to a concentration camp near Danzig. Once there, Zigi volunteered to work at a railway yard, where he was able to get more food.

With the Russians advancing, Zigi and the rest of his group were sent on a Death March and arrived in the German naval town of Neustadt, and told they were going to Denmark. However, before this could happen there was a British air attack, and during the chaos that followed, Zigi realised that all of the Nazis had left, and they were surrounded by British Army, and therefore liberated on 3rd May 1945. As soon as they were liberated, Zigi and his friends from Danzig and the march went looking for food. Three days after liberation, Zigi ended up in hospital for three months due to the effects of over eating after a long period of malnutrition. Once he left hospital, he and his friends were sent to a Displaced Persons’ Camp.

Zigi finally arrived in the UK in 1947, where he married and had a family.

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