A joint initiative by the Kingston Orthodox and Liberal synagogues to provide a Holocaust Memorial Day education programme for local students is now attracting over 1,000 participants.
On the launch day of the scheme’s seventh year, French-born survivor Marcel Ladenheim discussed his experiences with year-10 students from Coombe Boys’ School at Kingston Synagogue.
Now Surbiton-based, Mr Ladenheim recalled that much of his childhood had been spent in hiding under the care of two non-Jewish women — his mother was mentally ill.
He also recounted the trauma of leaving France after the war when his aunt took him to Manchester. “The reason I speak to you today is because I’d like to remember the children who were murdered,” he explained. “And for my mother, who never recovered from her experiences, and the two ladies who didn’t have to take in a Jewish boy, but did.”
Sean Dickson, 14, said Mr Ladenheim’s talk had moved him greatly. “From listening to his story, it is quite upsetting to know how many people were actually affected. How many rooms full of people died? It’s hard to imagine.”
Coombe Boys’ head of humanities Grant Robertson pointed out: “As much as we can do in the classroom, we can’t create the first-hand experience for them. It is not just what they get from the survivor, but the whole environment of being in a synagogue.
“The boys were so enthused about spreading the message further. They have really come away with a sense of how brave the survivors were, and the people who saved them.”
Forty volunteers from both synagogues organised the half-day workshops, each featuring a talk by one of seven survivors involved in the project and the showing of a film made by the Holocaust Educational Trust.
Programme volunteer Robert Lewis said: “We hope that the children leave with the knowledge of what it was really like. Just hearing somebody talk about their experiences will hopefully breathe into them a feeling of tolerance.”