SOME of the people whose lives were touched by the horrors of the Holocaust have spoken to the News Letter to coincide with a day of commemoration.
Holocaust Memorial Day fell yesterday, and one relative of a Belfast-based refugee from Nazi Germany said it should serve as “a warning to us all”.
Some of those who fled Hitler’s persecution of the Jews ended up in Northern Ireland, but their relatives perished as the ‘Final Solution’ swept Europe – killing an estimated six million Jews.
Lorna Goldstrom is the wife of Dr Max Goldstrom, who taught history at Queen’s University Belfast for more than 30 years. He died in 2009, aged 80.
But in 1939, when he was aged just 10, he was selected by his Jewish family to go on a train from his home town of Marienburg in Germany to the safety of the UK. It was part of a programme called the Kindertransport – a sort of refugee plan for Jewish children.
When he left Germany he had four siblings, with another yet to be born.
But within just a few years both his parents and most of his siblings were confirmed dead.
Mrs Goldstrom, now 75 and living in south Belfast, said her late husband never spoke a great deal about his experiences.
“It was an unspeakable time,” she said. “You are reminded of that level of cruelty when you hear about what is happening, for example, in Syria.
“I welcome the arrival of Holocaust Day. I think it’s a good thing to make people pause and think about matters that are now historic, to kind of be a warning to us all.”
After spending several years in England Max met his wife-to-be, and they moved to Northern Ireland in 1964. They had four children together, and Mrs Goldstrom now has six grandchildren – soon to be seven.
Asked if she feels she is lucky, she said: “I had a happy marriage, a long marriage. Together we were able to make the family for him that he had lost in the war years. He made a new life for himself.”
One woman who had direct experience of the Kindertransport is Gertrude Warmington.
Now living in Enniskillen and aged 88, she still retains a distinct Germanic accent.
Born to a Jewish father and Catholic mother, aged just 16 she and her younger brother had been put on a train to take them out of Austria to the safety of the UK. En route, she said the train kept stopping while Nazis checked children for belongings that might be of use to them.
She ended up in the Donaghadee area. But even there she was treated with suspicion, she said, with some fearful she might be a spy.
She was even warned to stay away from the coast “in case I would send messages across the waves to Germany”.
Her mother survived the Holocaust, but her father disappeared and she never saw him again. She took a job as a nurse, married, and had two children.
She downplayed the trauma of her own experience, saying: “I’m just one of thousands of children . . . I was one of the lucky ones. I didn’t really suffer, except the breaking up of the family.”
Asked about Holocaust Memorial Day itself, she took a different view to that of Mrs Goldstrom.
“Does it do a lot of good, commemoration?” she asked.
“Maybe some people want to forget the horror. What’s wrong with that? It’s your personal test; either you get over it, or you get under it.”
Asked if she has in any sense “gotten over” her experiences, she said: “As I grow older and older, I have. It has been a horror for many, many people – not only for me. But you have to get over it somehow in order to keep on living, and helping where you can.”