Holocaust Memorial Day 2005
This year the theme of Holocaust Memorial Day is SURVIVORS. This is the script of the assembly that was given to the students of Henry Compton during the week of January 24 - 29 2005:
Holocaust Memorial Day 2005 – Survivors, the story of Hans Kaufmann
Often when we hear about tragic events such as the recent Tsunami in Asia, the genocide in Rwanda and the Holocaust we think of the people affected as victims. I would like to use this years Holocaust Memorial Week not to talk about victims but to talk about survivors, the people who have overcome their terrible experiences and have a message of hope and strength for us all.
Many of you will know that the Nazis killed members of my family and that others escaped from persecution in Germany, such as my grandmother who I see often in her home in North London. Today I want to share with you the experiences of my grandmother’s cousin, Hans, a survivor with a powerful story to tell.
Hans and his brothers and sisters grew up in South West Germany near the city of Baden Baden in the Black Forest. These are his words.
My story starts in April 1933 only 3 months after Hitler had come to power. When I was walking home from school with my twin brother Walter. We noticed that all the windows belonging to Jewish shops had been covered in anti –Jewish graffiti. When we got to our father’s shop this had also been vandalised. My father had served in the German army in the First World War and had never knowingly done anything wrong to anyone, but he realised that things were going to get worse and that we needed to do something to protect ourselves. So soon afterwards my brothers and sisters left Germany – Martin went to Argentina, Hedwig went to Paris, Margaret ended up in Israel, and Sali went to France and probably joined the French Foreign Legion but we never heard from him again. That left Walter and myself. Walter found a job as an apprentice baker in a town 70 miles away. I had an interview to be a shirtcutter but my mother who had now ‘lost’ all of her children was reluctant for me to leave as well. She happened to mention this to her neighbours who were having some decorators in and as a result I was offered an apprenticeship as a painter and decorator. This man was prepared to take on Jewish workers even though this was difficult for him, but when his customers refused to have a Jew working in their houses I was asked to stop working for him. My father had died in Feb 1938 and so my only real choice left was to try and emigrate (leave the country) with my mother. My best hope was to join my brother Martin in Buenos Aires so we asked him to try and get us visas for Argentina. Martin managed to get one for me as a result of my trade but not for mother. All I needed were the official papers but when I got to the Argentinian embassy which was many miles away in Stuttgart I was told that they had stopped issuing visas the day before. However things were about to get dramatically worse because as soon as I got home I was arrested by the SS and sent to the Dachau concentration camp. I spent 75 days in there. I won’t dwell on it. So much has been said and written on the subject. None of it can adequately describe man’s inhumanity to man. I knew that my only chance of getting out of the camp – if one managed to survive – was proof that I was trying to emigrate. As luck would have it I found out that the British government had been persuaded by some prominent British Jews to use an old army camp in Kent for temporary accommodation of German Jews who were on their way to other countries. The camp had not been used since the First World War and was in dire need of repair and overhaul. As a result of my trade as a painter and decorator I managed to get on the list of people that would be sent to England. I was released from Dachau on 12th April 1939. Once in England I tried to get my mother released but she was sent to a concentration camp in France where she died in June 1941. By this time I had joined the British Army and after working as a manual worker building camps I was eventually weapon trained and incorporated into the main Army. I served for 6 and a half years before being demobbed in June 1946. Once I left I worked with a friend of mine from the army and we set up a small painting and decorating firm. It was about then that I met my future wife Gerda and we married in December 1947, but that is another chapter!
Hans is still alive and lives with Gerda in north London, I have fond memories of the times that he used to take my brother and I to watch Watford play football, where he used to work recording the matches.
I would like to finish this assembly with a quote from one of my old teachers who has written about theme of survivors for this years Holocaust Memorial Week:
Our task is to make sure that as many people as possible, especially the young, listen to these survivors from a terrible past that finds echoes in our society - and pledge to them that we will do our utmost to prevent anything like that which they endured ever happening again in Britain or elsewhere in the world.
Thank you for listening.
Hans and his wife Gerde on their wedding day outside Hampstead Registry Office
Hans, Lilo (my grandmother) and baby Sonja (my mother) in Primrose Hill
You can download a Holocaust Memorial Week banner (pdf) here
Click here for the Holocaust Memorial Day 2005 website