Survivor bears witness
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