Holocaust survivor speaks at moving service to mark Holocaust Memorial Day at Stevenage council headquarters

Dignitaries attending the Holocaust memorial service during which candles were lit to remember in th

Dignitaries attending the Holocaust memorial service during which candles were lit to remember in the six million Jews who perished in the Nazi death camps. Rev Bernd Koschland is fourth from the left. - Credit: Archant

A Holocaust survivor who last saw his parents in 1938 before he was rescued from Nazi Germany was among those to speak at a Holocaust Memorial Day service at Stevenage Borough Council’s headquarters on Wednesday.

The civic service was held to commemorate all those who have died in genocides throughout the 20th century.

The service consisted of prayers, readings and films made by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust – which organises the annual global commemoration to coincide with the anniversary of the liberation of prison camp Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Dignitaries including Stevenage mayor Howard Burrell, Rabbi Michael Standfield and Stevenage Liberal Synagogue secretary Terry Wolfe attended the event, which was organised by the council and the synagogue.

Rev Bernd Koschland from London delivered a moving description of his escape from Nazi Germany in 1938 on the Kindertransport – a system organised by the British to rescue Jewish children from Germany.

The 85-year-old, who left his parents behind and never saw them again, said: “The Holocaust was in many ways unique.

“The leaders of Nazi Germany wished to be rid of people they considered weren’t worthy of living, not just because they were different but because they didn’t meet the ideal of what Hitler called the ‘pure Aryan’.

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“Over the years I’ve asked many questions about it, and the biggest question I have asked is why? Why did it come about?

“The answer to that question is I don’t know why, because there is no definitive answer.

Rev Koschland said he received one final message from his parents in 1938 which simply said ‘everything is okay’. A year later they were both dead having been deported to Nazi concentration camps.

He said he could not forget what had happened but that life had to move on.

“I don’t live in the past, you can’t live in the past,” he said.

“I am hopeful that genocide will not happen again and that the wars in Syria and Iraq will not lead to this happening again.

“The lesson for all of us is we mustn’t stand by, we must act, and if we do, the world we be a better place.”

Mr Burrell said afterwards: “It was a privilege and an honour to host this service on the actual anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau

“It was especially pleasing that the event was so well attended, and it’s so important that we don’t forget and that we continue to commemorate this atrocity.

“We’ve got to keep it in the memory and pass it down to the next generation.”

The programme for the service was decorated with designs made by six-year-old Lauren Hancock from Martins Wood Primary School and Keyarna Johnson, a year-six pupil at Featherstone Wood Primary School. The youngsters won a competition organised by the synagogue and the council – with all the designs entered on display at Stevenage Central Library along with an exhibition about the Holocaust.