In recent weeks, I have been learning a huge amount about the Holocaust in both my History and Religious Studies lessons. As a year group, it has been shocking and at times disturbing to witness the horrific acts taken against those who were Jewish, homosexual, gypsies, disabled and more in the early twentieth century. And yet, whilst reading first-hand accounts of the inhumane treatment many received, I have never had the opportunity to speak to a Holocaust survivor myself. That was up until last Tuesday, as Year 9 were given the privilege to receive a talk from a Jewish Holocaust survivor, George Vulkan.

Originally named Hans, George has experienced acts of pure hatred and evil against him in the earlier stages of his life. Members of his family have been heartlessly murdered and dehumanized in one of the most devastating events in humankind. His talk would be both insightful and heartbreaking.

Vulkan began by introducing his family and the very start of his life. Born in Vienna in 1929 to a middle-class family, Vulkan had a happy childhood. Vulkan’s family were Jewish, however, this did not initially affect him. Before being torn apart, his family had described a bad man called Hitler who George knew little about. But thankfully, they thought, since they were living in Austria, their family would be fine. And so, Vulkan continued his childhood, being friends with children with different beliefs to him. But, inevitably, this would all change for Vulkan.

After the uprising of the Nazi party, his school life changed drastically. George was isolated from the rest of his classmates, ordered to sit at the back of the class. He was also prevented from leaving his desk at break. After school, Vulkan would be beaten up by members of the Hitler Youth. Hearing about this kind of abuse was uncomfortable for many students to listen to, but necessary. One student commented, ‘It seems strange that such hate and violence was not stopped. How can teachers and friends just stand by like that?’

And so, his family would eventually flee from Vienna. George could bring only a suitcase and a teddy bear, which he still has today. The family fled to France, whilst George went to England. George’s uncle returned to Vienna with his wife, after which he was tragically killed. We were also shown pictures of other members of his family who were killed for their beliefs. I could understand George’s feelings of frustration at the injustice of his family’s past.

Vulkan discussed the dehumanisation and murder of many other victims of the Holocaust, many of which included people close to him. The stories of those who were taken to the showers and immediately gassed proved painful to hear, considering the disturbing processes Nazis went through to diminish a human life merely to a number and a name on a list. George’s birth place, Vienna, is home to many Jews who suffered this heartbreaking fate. Vulkan’s story alone demonstrates that the victims’ lives were worth far more than a number. Their lives have not been forgotten, particularly with people such as George sharing his story for the benefit of newer generations.

Vulkan described his story as ‘mild’ compared to many others of the Holocaust, which I found to be incredible considering the abuse and trauma he had to endure.

Students were then given the chance to ask questions, ranging from Anti-semitism in today’s world to the interpretation of the Holocaust from Hollywood movies. Vulkan’s answers were consistently interesting, due to his honesty on anti-semitism and his own struggles in life.

Never before had a talk moved me in the way that Vulkan’s did. In today’s society, it is absolutely vital we learn about events such as the Holocaust to continue the fight against prejudice. George’s story will not be forgotten as he continues to contribute in educating students on such an important moment in our history.

Huge thanks must go to the History department and George Vulkan for making this talk possible.

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