On the 19th of February the National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher pupils were given the opportunity to have a presentation and Q&A with a holocaust survivor. This was organised by two sixth year girls, Lauren Crichton and Caitlin Gaughan as part of their ‘next steps’ process following a visit to Auschwitz with the Holocaust Educational Trust. This program runs every year with two pupils from the advanced history class being given the opportunity to have the experience and every year the pupils honour their visit in different ways. This was the first year a survivor was able to come in thanks to the hard work involved by the girls and the history department, and it was truly a moving and special experience for all. The girls also spoke at assemblies the weeks prior so a background was established that Yuri built on with person tales. Yuri explained that he felt education was the best inoculation to extreme views and that this is why he finds it so important to share his story. He says he felt he wasn’t a survivor of anything, he had been so young and kept so out of it that he thought it hadn’t affected him. It wasn’t until years later that he realised that by default, he was a survivor and it was up to him to tell his and his families story.
Yuri Winterstein was born just before WW2 in Czechoslovakia which was taken over by the Nazis not long after. Yuri spoke about how his family was impacted by the control, showing us his yellow ‘Jew’ star and telling childhood stories about his cousins that were killed in the Death camps. His immediate family, his mother, father and sister, were lucky in some of the compassionate acts they were shown by some of the Nazi soldiers. The small acts such as allowing his mother and sister to be transferred to a camp later, as well as pure chance and luck such as his mother being able to burn incriminating letters before their hiding place was discovered, meant they didn’t enter the camps until much later and as a result, survived. Yuri used these examples to show how he views the Nazis, he says he has no love for them but that not all were bad. He also spoke about the people who showed compassion to him during this time, the young couple and then the older lady who took immense risk in hiding and raising him to save his life. Hiding a Jew or knowing the whereabouts of one was a highly punishable act to the Nazis and he spoke highly of the people who cared for him on behalf of his family. As he was so young, it was dangerous to take him as he was like a baby and couldn’t be controlled like a child if the hiding place was found.
After the main presentation, the advanced higher class had a lunch then a question session that gave us the chance to ask him in more depth about things he said in his presentation and ask further about his views. This was really a unique experience and it was very insightful to see how his experience shaped his views on humanity.
by Kelly Anderson