On 11th February, students from Esher College heard testimony from Holocaust survivor, Uri Winterstein, as part of a visit organised by the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET).
The testimony was followed by a question and answer session to enable 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.
The visit was arranged by second year History students as part of their role of Holocaust Educational Trust Ambassadors – Brandon Bourne, Beth Cole, Grace Evans and Zahra Khan. Brandon Bourne said "When we (Ambassador Group) got the confirmation that Uri was able to come to the College, we were thrilled! It’s a great honour to have such an amazing person come and tell his and his family’s story to our College, it’s something not everybody can experience. After hearing Zigi Shipper speak last year in November, it really changed all our perspectives on the Holocaust and really put a human spin on the numbers, something we believe Uri’s talk will do the rest of the College!"
Uri Winterstein was born in Bratislava, Slovakia in October 1943. When Uri was only a month old, his parents paid for him to be taken into the care of a non-Jewish woman, a Sudeten German who had not bought into Hitler’s hate campaign. As the family were preparing to go into hiding at any moment, they realised how difficult it would be to keep a baby quiet in hiding, so had no other choice but to leave their only son with a stranger.
Nine of Uri’s wider family, including his 91-year-old grandmother, were sent to Auschwitz where they were killed. While living in Bratislava, both Uri’s parents were lawyers. His father was a member of the Working Group which halted the deportation of Jews from 1942 to 1944 by bribing SS officers and government officials. Eventually Uri’s sister and parents were caught and sent to the concentration camp, Theresienstadt. The family Uri was with decided to flee and gave him to a peasant woman to look after. She really did not care for him and it was during this period that he fell ill. Despite this, without this minimal care, he could not have survived on his own. Uri spent 18 months away from his family and was only reunited with them after the end of the war. Following the takeover of Czechoslovakia by the Communists, they left the country and settled in the UK.
Uri’s parents tried to protect him by not dwelling on the past but focusing on the future. However, when as an adult he broke down at a Holocaust Memorial Day event, he realised that his experiences during the Holocaust had affected him more than he had imagined. He broke down and wept and this proved to be a cathartic experience for him.
Uri has been speaking in schools for the Trust since 2013.