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Holocaust survivor's incredible story told to students at Spalding's Nacro centre




Holocaust survivor Martin Stern tells his story to students at Spalding's Nacro centre. Photo: (TIM WILSON) SG110518-101TW (2212912)
Holocaust survivor Martin Stern tells his story to students at Spalding's Nacro centre. Photo: (TIM WILSON) SG110518-101TW (2212912)

“Up until 16 years ago I was a hospital doctor treating people with various allergies,” Holocaust survivor Martin Stern begins.

“But I was not always a doctor. I was once a child and when I was five years old in 1944 I was at school in Nazi occupied Amsterdam.

“The form teacher had taken my class into the hall when the back door opened and two men in raincoats walked in. They must have been about 17 or 18 years old and they said ‘is Martin Stern here?’

“My teacher said ‘he has not come in today.’

“I did not have a clue what was going on so I put up my hand and said ‘I am here.’

“I will never forget the look on my teacher’s face as I was led away.”

His teacher was trying to protect him. But aged five, Martin was arrested because his father was a Jew.

It was the start of his horrific journey during the Holocaust in which approximately six million European Jews were killed under Nazi German leadership in World War Two.

“I will never forget the look on my teacher’s face as I was led away.”

Incredibly, he is here to tell the tale, after a Dutch woman risked her life to save both him and his baby sister while they were imprisoned in Theresienstadt, a concentration camp in what is now the Czech Republic.

As he recounted his experiences to a group of students at Spalding’s Nacro centre, you could have heard a pin drop.

The charity, based in Westlode Street, supports 16-19 year old learners who have either been in prison or have offended, are disadvantaged, or who are simply at a crossroads in life.

Tutor Megan Davies said: “There are a lot of youngsters who do not know about the Holocaust or know in depth what it was. It is such an important part of history.”

And Zoe Whitmore, senior tutor, added: “To have people at such opposite ends of the age scale, it is really nice to get a difference perspective of life and to build their knowledge.”

Martin did not know why soldiers were looking for him at the age of five. He put his hand up to say 'I'm here'. (SG110518-102TW) (2212910)
Martin did not know why soldiers were looking for him at the age of five. He put his hand up to say 'I'm here'. (SG110518-102TW) (2212910)

After being pulled out of school that fateful day Martin and his one-year-old sister were taken to Westerbork transit camp in the Netherlands. There, they were housed in wooden huts crammed with hundreds of people.

“My sister was arrested, who age one, was such a threat to the German empire,” he said, despairingly.

“We ended up in a camp with a barbed wire fence surrounding it. It was a terrible place.

“The only food was vegetables your mother would bin. There was no fish, no meat.

“Each Tuesday morning trains of cattle trucks would come into the camp and be filled with people like sardines by railway men and guards, whose faces looked like those you would see every day.

“There was one soldier with a rifle standing on top of one of those trucks and I now know what he would do if one of the faces peering out through the gaps in a truck got out.”

On the sides of the trucks were signs reading Auschwitz or Sobibór but the prisoners at the time did not understand what this meant.

One day Martin and his sister ended up in one of those trucks.

“I remember asking why a man was sleeping with his eyes wide open. I thought that journey lasted three days and three nights. It seemed longer. A journey like that seemed like torture.”

While many of the trucks went to Auschwitz where people ended up worked to death or were sent to the gas chambers, Martin and his sister were taken to Theresienstadt. There, they could have met their death, were it not for the efforts of the woman who smuggled them food and kept them hidden.

They were rescued when the Red Army defeated the Nazis and freed them from their hell.

“I remember asking why a man was sleeping with his eyes wide open. I thought that journey lasted three days and three nights. It seemed longer. A journey like that seemed like torture.”

Dr Stern, now aged 79, moved to the UK in 1950 and today lives in Leicestershire, travelling the country to give talks about his time during the Holocaust.

Student Ellie Adams (17) said afterwards: “It gave me goosebumps. It was sad but just amazing. I don’t have words...”

Kane Holmes (18) added: “It is inspiring to hear his story and each Holocaust survivor has a different experience.”

And Cameron Brooks (18) said: “I thought it was enlightening, and how tragic and dark that part of history was.”

Hannah Gibbs (19) said: “ I have learnt quite a lot. You cannot really imagine what he has gone through and that he survived it.”



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