Students at Rushcliffe School, in West Bridgford, have been hearing first-hand the moving story of holocaust survivor Simon Winston.
Simon and his family escaped from a Jewish ghetto in Nazi Occupied Poland during the Second World War and spent nearly two years in hiding, narrowly escaping capture on numerous occasions. After the war his family, who were then homeless, came to Nottingham and Simon, now 79, has lived in Nottinghamshire ever since.
240 Year 9 students listened in stunned silence as Simon spoke of how 2000 Jews in the ghetto (prison camp) where he lived as a child were rounded up, marched into the forest and shot dead; of how his father used one of the gold bars, which he had hidden in secret compartments in clothes shoes and a brush, to bribe a German soldier into allowing their family to escape; and of how they spent years hiding in holes in the ground, only coming out at night to forage for food.
The talk was the culmination of a year-long “Lessons from Auschwitz” project which the school has been undertaking through the Holocaust Educational Trust.
Two sixthformers, Eleanor Watson and Harry Guttridge, were selected to act as ambassadors, visiting Auschwitz and then working with others to make sure the lessons from the tragedy are never forgotten. They also linked up with fellow Rushcliffe students Finnuala Brett and Jessica Pinkney to design a rose mosaic in memory of the holocaust, which Simon unveiled. This will now be on permanent display in the school.
Eleanor, who’s in Year 13 at Rushcliffe, said: “We organised the assembly because we wanted to make sure the message was passed on but we also wanted to create a permanent reminder in the school. We chose to do a rose as the rose garden at the National Holocaust Centre in Newark is such an important place and we felt it would be a poignant symbol.”
16-year-old Jessica added: “It’s really important to learn about things like genocide to make sure it never happens again.”
During Simon’s talk, he told the pupils about how Nazi soldiers had discovered him in one of the hiding places where his father had put him but, despite being terrified, he had given them a false name and managed to convince them he was just playing hide and seek.
Finnuala, aged 16, said: “I was so struck by how close he was to being caught and how fine the line was between life and death.”
After the war, Simon and his family lived in Displaced Persons Camps and were eventually brought to Nottingham by his uncle, who had already settled here. His father got a job at a flour mill and they lived in Belgrave Square, in the city centre. Simon went on to work as teacher for 35 years but he never told anyone his story until 20 years ago when he heard about Beth Shalom, now the National Holocaust Centre and Museum.
“I thought it was fantastic, I offered to help and I’ve been doing it ever since,” he said. “I was mesmerised by the great round of applause the Rushcliffe students gave me. It makes it all worthwhile. I’m very impressed by how seriously the school takes holocaust education and their recognition that young people need this understanding so it can’t happen again.”
Steve Lewis, Headteacher at Rushcliffe, said Simon’s testimony will make a huge difference: “His experiences are so powerful and speak to the children’s hearts. The students listened intently and now they can take that knowledge into the world and challenge discrimination.”