Sur­vivor bears wit­ness

Kentish Express Ashford & District - - Countryfile - by Mike Ben­nett mben­nett@thek­m­group.co.uk

STU­DENTS at Ash­ford Christ Church School wel­comed Holo­caust sur­vivor Josef Perl and wife Sylvia as part of their his­tory and re­li­gious stud­ies.

They lis­tened as Mr Perl told how as an eight-year-old Jewish boy in Cze­choslo­vakia he and his fam­ily were forced from their homes be­fore be­ing beaten and herded into cat­tle wag­ons.

He was taken to Pol­ish con­cen­tra­tion camps where he wit­nessed the killing of his mother and four of his sis­ters.

Josef is now 78 and has vis­ited more than 60 schools as part of his work with the Holo­caust Ed­u­ca­tional Trust and the Im­pe­rial War Mu­seum in Lon­don.

The Christ Church pupils had vis­ited the mu­seum the pre­vi­ous day and were clearly moved by the ex­pe­ri­ence.

As Mr Perl shared his story he re­called how af­ter com­mit­ting an act of sab­o­tage within one camp, he was sen­tenced to death.

He es­caped dur­ing the night but was shot in the process.

The bul­let lodged in his leg and re­mained there for three years while he at­tempted to avoid de­tec­tion.

De­spite surgery af­ter the war, he still has a heavy limp.

Asked by stu­dents whether he hated his per­se­cu­tors, he replied: “I don’t carry ha­tred. You can­not carry a stone around your neck all your life. There is al­ways a chink of light in the dark­ness.

“You can­not change the past but you can make a bet­ter to­mor­row,” he added.

When asked by an­other stu­dent how he could bear to talk about his ex­pe­ri­ences, he said: “To­day I have been your wit­ness. To­mor­row you will be my wit­ness.

“Peo­ple still kill each other and chil­dren still die of star­va­tion.

“You are the fu­ture. You are the peo­ple who can make the world bet­ter. It is im­por­tant that you build that bet­ter fu­ture.”

To­wards the end of the ses­sion a can­dle was lit and stu­dents were in­vited to write down their own per­sonal re­flec­tions.

Some shed quiet tears as they wrapped their thoughts around a peb­ble and placed them near to the can­dle.

Mr Perl told them: “You have paid me the great­est hon­our that I have had since I have been talk­ing to young peo­ple.

“You laid a stone to re­mem­ber with me those who died.” � Read Josef Perl’s story in the book, Faces in the Smoke.

Holo­caust sur­vivor Josef Perl with pupils from Ash­ford Christ Church School af­ter he vis­ited the school to talk about his ex­pe­ri­ences

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