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Last week, Holocaust survivor and former Chemistry Lecturer at Lancaster University, Stephen Breuer, gave an account to students of his experiences as a child under Nazi persecution to commemorate national Holocaust Memorial Day held on the 27th of this month. Held by the University’s Politics Society, students filled Frankland Lecture Theatre to ask questions and to listen to Stephen’s memories of being a young Jew in occupied Hungary.
The Memorial Day is held annually to pay tribute to approximately 11 million people who died in the Holocaust. The genocide, initiated by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany and the Axis Powers, persecuted mostly Jews but also political opponents, Jehovah’s witnesses, prisoners of war and other minority groups. During the retelling of his account, Breuer explained that if we were to remain silent for a minute for every person who was killed we would be silent for 21 years.
Hungary was occupied by the Nazi’s in March of 1944 and anti-Semitic laws were enforced within three months. While his father was sent to the German Buchenwald concentration camp, where he passed away in January of 1945, Stephen along with his mother, brother, aunt, uncle and grandmother were amongst just over 50 to be put on a different train to a ghetto in Budapest rather than to Auschwitz; 1.1 million people were died here alone. He also spoke of two other uncles who survived Auschwitz. One survived due to a guard protecting him. Another miraculously was one of 3 out of 4000 who survived a mass shooting by pretending to be dead.
Originally, Stephen had chosen not to speak of his experiences for over 60 years, he worked at the University from 1967 to 2002 in the Chemistry department. Today, he has 12 years of experience speaking to schools, universities and colleges about his story his family’s stories.
To conclude his presentation, Stephen finished by stating, ‘judge people on what they do, not what they are’ which captures the 2018 Memorial Day’s poignant theme of ‘The Power of Words’. The Memorial Day Trust in a statement said that ‘words can make a difference – both for good and evil’ and that communities remembering should explore how language has been used both in the past and present to remember victims of the Holocaust and to share the stories of survivors. Their statement also included a known quotation from Anne Frank:
‘I want to go on living even after my death! And that’s why I am so grateful to God for having given me this gift, which I can use to develop myself and to express all that’s in me. When I write I can shake off all my cares; my sorrow disappears; my spirits are revived’. -Anne Frank’s Diary, 5th April 1944
Over the past few weeks, memorial events have been taken place both nationally and locally. Over 400 MP’s have signed the Holocaust Educational Trust’s Book of Commitment, including the leader of the opposition Jeremy Corbyn and the Prime Minister Theresa May who vowed ‘to ensure we never forget where prejudice and hatred can lead’.
At the University, various events such as a tree planting ceremony and a commemoration in Alexander Square have taken place, and in the town centre, an Inter-faith service took place at the Priory Church at 6:30pm for remembrance and reflection.