Martin Stern – Memories of the Holocaust.

On Tuesday 4th October, it was a Psychology and History lesson like no other at English Martyrs Sixth Form College as students relived the life of Martin Stern, a holocaust survivor.

Martin, now a retired immunologist aged 79, was arrested in his school classroom at the tender age of five because his father was a Jew.

His parents, both German, had fled to Holland before the war.  His non-Jewish mother died in hospital shortly after giving birth to his sister while his Father was being hidden by courageous farmers near Amsterdam airport after the German invasion. He was eventually captured and this was the last time he ever saw his father.

Martin shared his experiences which led him and his one year old sister, Erica, being imprisoned in Theresienstadt.  It was here where he and his sister met a Dutch woman called Catharina Casoeto De Jong. Imprisoned for marrying a Jewish market trader, she began looking after them, bringing them food from the ghetto kitchen and keeping them safe.

It was Catherina who saved their lives by risking her own every day.

When speaking about survival Martin said: “It was like undoing a combination lock by chance”. But he and Erica did more than survive – they flourished.

Martin went on to study medicine at Oxford, becoming an immunologist and an authority on asthma. Erica returned to the Netherlands and taught at the University of Utrecht before sadly passing away in 2007.

After the talk EMS6 student Alice Relton said: “At the end of the talk I just wanted to stand up and clap”.

Alice Eyre, a fellow student echoed Alice’s sentiment saying: “How can someone with those experiences still be so positive about the world? He was amazing.”

Organiser of the talk, Mrs Barbara Rackstraw, teacher of Psychology at EMS6 added: “This day will stay with me for a long time, Martin was unlike anyone I’ve ever met before. He held the attention of the students over a full day and I am both humbled and grateful for this experience. Martin is a skilled academic and his ability to apply Psychology to his experience was done in a way that no text book or lesson could ever teach. In the not so distant future all we will have are books, memories passed on from Grandparents – let’s not forget to ask and listen while we still can.”