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Headmaster's Address

Holocaust Memorial Day

This weekend I spent several hours trying to work out what to say to you today about the important theme of Holocaust Memorial Day. This falls annually on 27 January, a day of remembrance for the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust, alongside the millions of others killed under Nazi persecution, and we also remember those who have died in the genocides that have followed, including in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. The reason it happens on 27 January is that it was on this day, in 1945, that Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp, was liberated by the Soviet army.

On the day itself, Friday, we heard from the Chaplain, who reflected on the role of ordinary people either as victims, survivors, perpetrators or bystanders. Meanwhile, in their Year 9 assembly also on Friday, pupils heard from Mr Layton’s own personal family research into victims of the Holocaust.

Eventually over the weekend I came across the personal story of this amazing woman, Lydia Tischler, and at that point I knew that it was her voice I wanted to share with you today, not mine.

Lydia Tischler was just a child when she experienced the horrors of Auschwitz, the most notorious and deadly of all the extermination camps, and several others, including Terezin, a camp and ghetto in the modern-day Czech Republic.

She survived, and – extraordinarily – she went on in later life to become a very distinguished child psychotherapist. Throughout her professional career as a therapist and teacher, she has advocated for children – no doubt this passion had its roots in her own traumatic experiences as a child at Auschwitz, where her own mother was murdered. Having come to the UK as a child refugee after the war, she later embarked on a seventy-year career which continues to this day – even though she is now in her nineties.

Today, of all days, is not a day to listen to me – let’s listen to this remarkable woman’s story of survival, resilience, dignity, empathy, and human flourishing against all the odds.


Holocaust survivor interview, 2017