Eighty-seven-year-old Edgar Guest told his young audience at Brentwood School: “We should learn from the Holocaust. It did not start with tanks and gas chambers. It started with words… words uttered by individuals. It is your responsibility to stop and think about the power of words.”
He told members of the Sir Antony Browne and Historical Societies: “I never considered myself a victim. I fought, I survived and I won.” Mr Guest’s visit was part of the Holocaust Educational Trust’s Outreach Programme and timed to coincide with International Holocaust Remembrance Day (27th January).
The packed Wessex Auditorium was eerily quiet as students and staff listened spellbound to Mr Guest’s harrowing story, which was told with eloquence and clarity.
Mr Guest, one of the last living Holocaust survivors, was born in Budapest in Hungary and brought up a Roman Catholic despite being of Jewish descent. In 1940 he was awarded a scholarship to one of the country’s leading schools, where he was “completely and totally ignored because no-one wanted a Jew as a friend. I was never invited to a birthday party or outing. Never picked for teams. I was self-contained, self-sufficient and self-reliant.”
In 1944, after Germany invaded Hungary, anti-Jewish legislation was introduced and new decrees were issued including the wearing of a yellow star and an enforced curfew.
Mr Guest described the living conditions of Jews forced into the ghetto area of Budapest, where 70,000 people lived in 162 buildings surrounded by a wooden fence, and amid overcrowding, starvation and hypothermia. He was just 14 years old.
Liberation came in 1945 and Mr Guest brought his audience up to date with a precis of the last 70 years, including his arrival in England in 1956 and a 57-year marriage to an English girl.
The Holocaust Educational Trust was established in 1988, with an aim to educate young people from every background about the Holocaust and the important lessons to be learned for today. Mr Guest’s talk was one which no-one present would ever forget.