Sutton Valence School recently welcomed Holocaust survivor, Rudi Oppenheimer. During the visit, organised by the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET), Rudi told the Fifth Form GCSE history students about his time in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, as well as some of the tactics his family employed in order to avoid capture and torture by the Germans.
On the same day, five coaches carrying Sixth Form, some Fifth Form, the Chamber Choir, a contingent of Old Suttonians, Governors and staff travelled to Ypres to dedicate a plaque in St George’s Church, in memory of all Old Suttonians who fell in the conflict.
Thursday 18th September 2014 was the centenary of the day the first Old Suttonian, Fleming Fredrick Smythe, fell in WW1. A 2nd Lieutenant in 2nd Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment, he and his captain were buried alive in a trench; he was 20 years old.
The Chamber Choir were afforded the honour of not only singing in the church, but also to approximately 1500 people who had gathered at the Menin Gate for the daily Last Post ceremony. Richard Dixon TD DL, Old Suttonian and Gregor Roberts, from Sevenoaks, Head of Sutton Valence School CCF, laid wreaths on the memorial.
Gregor commented: “We had been reading up on the conflict and the significance of the sites we would visit. None of that prepared me for the impact of seeing the rows of gravestones at Tyne Cot Memorial Cemetery and others; it was very emotional. I was very proud to lay the school’s wreath at the Menin Gate to honour those who died.”
Back in school, a question and answer session in the school’s Groves Hall gave students the chance to better understand the nature of the Holocaust and to hear at first-hand how it affected those caught up in the anti-Semitism of the Second World War.
Sutton Valence School Headmaster, Bruce Grindlay, said: “It was a privilege for us to welcome Rudi Oppenheimer to our school and his testimony will remain a powerful reminder of the horrors so many experienced. We are grateful to the Holocaust Educational Trust for co-ordinating the visit and we hope that by hearing Rudi’s testimony it will encourage our students to learn from the lessons of the Holocaust and make a positive difference in their own lives.”
Karen Pollock MBE, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said:“At the Trust, we impart the history of the Holocaust to young people, to ensure that we honour the memory of those whose lives were lost and take forward the lessons taught by those who survived.Rudi’s story is one of tremendous courage during horrific circumstances. His testimony gives students the opportunity to learn where prejudice and racism can ultimately lead.”
About Rudi Oppenheimer
Rudi was born in 1931 in Berlin and lived there with his parents and older brother until he was four years old. In 1936, to escape increasing Nazi persecution, the Oppenheimers moved to Holland. Prior to that, Rudi spent six months in Britain with his mother and brother, where his sister, Eve, was born.
Because Eve was born in the UK, Rudi’s father registered her as a British subject which meant Rudi`s family were classified as ‘Exchange’ Jews – meaning they could be exchanged for Germans captured by the Allies.
When they were eventually deported to Bergen-Belsen in February 1944, the family received certain privileges as ‘Exchange Jews’ but nonetheless suffered terrible living conditions. On April 10 1945, with both their parents dead, the Oppenheimer children were on the last train to leave Bergen-Belsen.