Long-time Age Exchange volunteer and Holocaust survivor Helen Aronson spoke to year 8 students at St Ursula’s Convent School on Crooms Hill, Greenwich, on Wednesday 2nd March. The students learned about the Holocaust in the process of becoming Peer Educators and can then share that information with other students in the school, and local primary schools, enabling Helen’s personal experience to be shared as widely as possible.
The event was organized by Cathryn Devine of St Ursula’s and Age Exchange were able to facilitate and film the meeting thanks to a generous donation from the Clore Foundation.
As soon as the Nazis had invaded Poland in 1939 they occupied Lodz and started a process of persecution against the Jewish people and, in 1940, they began the creation of the ghetto: this was to be an area where Jewish people would be forced to live and where they would not be allowed to leave, would be restricted and controlled, and eventually exterminated.
Helen Aronson was aged 12 when she was taken to the ghetto and now aged 89 is one of the few survivors of Lodz. 204,000 Jewish people passed through the ghetto but only 750, including Helen, her mother and brother, remained in the end to be liberated by the Russians. Her father, Motush, had gone with the other children of the ghetto when they were being removed. He hoped to help them but did not realise they were being taken to Chelmno Concerntration camp, where they were all gassed.
Helen talked to the students about her life before and after the ghetto but most importantly as a witness to the terrible events that took place within Lodz. She took questions and showed film of previous projects she had been involved with, including a BBC film. The students enthusiastically asked questions ans spoke about how fascinating and moving it was to speak with a real survivor, they had read The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and the Diary of Anne Frank, and said how meeting Helen had really brought those books to life.