St Peter's 13-18
Pupils and staff at St Peter's School welcomed Holocaust survivor Mr Manfred Goldberg BEM on Wednesday 24 June for a powerful and educational talk via Zoom, organised in partnership with the Holocaust Educational Trust.
Manfred spoke frankly and openly about his experiences, from life in the Riga Ghetto to the final death march from Poland to Germany.
Manfred was born on 21 April 1930 in Kassel in central Germany into an Orthodox Jewish family. He and his family suffered escalating persecution in Germany under the Nazi regime in the years before the Second World War. Manfred’s father was able to escape to Britain in August 1939, just days before the war began, but the rest of the family were unable to join him. The situation deteriorated following the outbreak of the war and in 1940 Manfred’s Jewish school was closed by the Nazi authorities.
In December 1941, Manfred, his mother and his younger brother, Herman, were deported by train from Germany to the Riga Ghetto in Latvia. Life in the ghetto was characterised by lack of food, use as slave labour and constant fear. The ghetto was also a place of mass murder and the people who lived there were terrorized by random selections and mass shootings.
In August 1943, just three months before the ghetto was finally liquidated, Manfred was sent to a nearby labour camp where he was forced to work laying railway tracks. The prisoners in the camp were treated brutally and again subjected to frequent selections.
Manfred recalled how one day, upon returning from work, they discovered that the small children who had been left at the camp during the day had disappeared, including his younger brother Herman. Despite contacting a number of help and search organisations, Manfred and his family have been unable to find any trace of Herman.
As the Red Army approached Riga, Manfred and the other surviving prisoners were evacuated to Stutthof concentration camp near Danzig (today Gdańsk in Poland)in August 1944. He spent more than eight months as a slave worker in Stutthof and its subcamps, including Stolp and Burggraben.
The camp was abandoned just days before the war ended and Manfred and other prisoners were sent on a death march in appalling conditions. The death march lasted 8 days and of the 5,000 prisoners who left the camp, only 1,500 survived. Manfred recalled how he made his way through the column of people looking for his mother: "There was great joy when we found each other. We had no idea what our fate would be, but at least we would be together".
Manfred was finally liberated at Neustadt in Germany on 3 May 1945. Manfred came to Britain in September 1946 to be reunited with his father. After learning English, he managed to catch up on some of his missed education and he eventually graduated from London University with a degree in Electronics. He is married with four sons and several grandchildren.
Pupils and staff asked Manfred questions at the end of the talk, including whether he had returned to Germany since the Holocaust and whether religion had played a part in his experiences. Manfred replied honestly, explaining how it was a matter of surviving day by day and "God did not come into the equation at all".
It was 72 years after liberation when Manfred finally returned to Stutthof, accompanied by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
In his closing statement, Manfred said: "If you take one thing from today's talk, let it be this. Take to heart and act on the following: resolve never to remain silent when you witness injustice. Silence never helps the oppressed, it only helps the oppressors".
Dr Alastair Dunn, Senior Deputy Head at St Peter's School, said: "It has been an honour and a privilege to meet Mr Goldberg, albeit virtually. Hearing from a survivor is a poignant, humbling and emotional experience and I know that our pupils and staff have been deeply moved by his story.
"Mr Goldberg's plea for all of us to stand up against injustice is an incredibly important and inspiring message, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank him for sharing his experiences with all of us at St Peter's School.
"I would also like to thank the Holocaust Educational Trust who helped to facilitate this event. The Holocaust Educational Trust work with schools across the UK to educate children about the Holocaust and its contemporary relevance."