Most people who have studied history or philosophy will be well-acquainted with the horrors of the Holocaust. Though the reality of it stays in the past, the story lives on, the tales of anti-semitism echoing throughout generations.
On 16 January 2017, the Hong Kong Holocaust and Tolerance Centre (website) and Harrow International School Hong Kong welcomed Micha Gelber, a holocaust survivor, to speak to students about the experiences he suffered during World War II.
Micha Gelber was a Dutch Jew who was imprisoned in a concentration camp (Westerbork) at the age of eight. He found himself on a list of Jews to be exchanged for German nationals living in Palestine, avoiding death only because he was marked as an ‘exchange Jew’. Five months later, his family was transferred to Bergen-Belson, where they suffered for another 15 months. Westbork concentration camp was designed to be a transit camp for Dutch Jews before they were deported to concentration camps in Poland. Gelber did not have to stay here for long as he was soon sent to a sub-camp under Bergen-Belson called the the Star camp. It was established in 1943 and housed Jews that were to be exchanged for Germans from allied countries. The rules at this camp were less inhumane, and though the conditions were harsh, Gelber’s family was able to stay together and meet daily. On the 10th of April 1945, nine-year old Micha was sent on a train to Theresienstadt (a camp in Czechoslovakia) where he endured a two-week transport before he was liberated by the Russian troops. On June 30th, he returned to the Netherlands.
It is one thing to learn about the Holocaust from textbooks and documentaries, but it is another to hear firsthand from someone who actually experienced it. The final words of his talk were ‘I am here as a survivor, not a victim, and this is the reason why I am standing here telling you all this.’ He advocated hope not despair, gratitude not bitterness, tolerance not revenge. Those dark times of prejudice and injustice must be remembered, for those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it. Everyone that attended the talk was deeply moved by his words.
Gelber was also the keynote speaker at the United Nations Holocaust Memorial Service at the Sai Ying Pun Community Centre on 23 January. Twenty-six Y10-Y13 students volunteered to assist with the event. Five students read accounts written by holocaust survivors that delivered strong messages of hope for survival and freedom, and others helped both backstage and at the guest reception. The evening event was attended by Consul-Generals of Austria, Germany, Isarel, Poland, the Netherlands, the USA, former Chief Executives of the HKSAR along with other officials, dignitaries and members of the public.
Readers of Survivor Accounts:
“Persecution” by Marsha Segall; young Lithuanian woman, Siauliai
Read by: Alexa Fung (Y12, Keller)
“Hiding” by Anne Frank; Butch Jewish youth in hiding
Read by: Mei Law (Y10, Wu)
“Ghetto” by Jerry Koenig; Polish Jewish child, Warsaw Ghetto
Read by: Edison Tsang (Y11, Peel)
“Transport” by Barbara Stimler; young Polish woman, Auschwitz-Birkenau
Read by: Morgan Jack (Y11, Gellhorn)
“Camps” by Jan Harman; Czech Jewish youth, Auschwitz-Birkenau
Read by: Hamza Apabhai (Y12, Peel)