Holocaust survivor visits Perryfields

Students were left spellbound when they had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hear directly from a survivor of the Holocaust.

Ninety-five-year-old Mindu Hornick MBE, who as a young girl survived the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, visited the Oldbury school, which is part of the Broadleaf Partnership Trust, on Wednesday, February 28th.

Set up by the Holocaust Educational Trust’s outreach programme, Mindu’s visit allowed her to tell the Year 9 students about her harrowing wartime experiences.

In softly spoken words, she told a hushed school hall how in 1942, at the age of twelve, she was forced from her home in Slovakia and sent with her family to the notorious camp.

When the family arrived at Auschwitz, Mindu and her sister were sent ahead by their mother on the advice of a Polish prisoner. This simple act saved their lives, as the girls were sent to work as slave labourers rather than to die in the gas chamber. Mindu never saw her mother and brothers again.

Perryfields headteacher Clare Harris says it was a unique opportunity for students:

“You could tell by a lot of the students’ faces that they couldn’t believe what they were hearing and what Mindu went through.

I think the story resonated with many of the students, and they’ll walk away realising the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity they’ve had today. It was an absolute honour and a privilege to hear Mindu speak.

Our school is at the heart of a diverse community, so Mindu’s message of tolerance and kindness is an essential one.

We also have children here who have literally joined us from war-torn areas around the world – so Mindu’s words really are relevant, even though her experiences were so many decades ago.”

The deeply moving story of how Mindu came to survive the Holocaust had a profound impact on the pupils, as she described a ‘hundred miracles’ that had allowed her survive the war.

“Entering Auschwitz was like entering hell, because of the horrible sights and smells we encountered.”

At the camp, Mindu and her sister were forced to work in a room called ‘Kanada’, where they had to cut open prisoners’ confiscated clothes to search for hidden valuables. They were under constant supervision by the Nazi SS, and Mindu remembered seeing prisoners beaten to death for no reason.

She told the students about her encounters with the infamous ‘angel of death’ Josef Mengele, the Nazi doctor who performed experiments on over 15,000 Jewish prisoners. In particular, she recalled how he was always immaculately dressed, and how cold he was when selecting prisoners.

Then, Mindu told how she and her sisters were transferred from Auschwitz to work in a munitions factory in Hamburg.

This, she said, was another ‘miracle’, as she didn’t think she would have survived much longer at Auschwitz. In Germany, the prisoners were made to work in dangerous conditions, with many being severely injured.

As the Second World War came to a close, the prisoners were loaded onto a train and told by the Nazis they were being taken to be handed over to the Red Cross. However, their real intention was to load them onto three ships, which the Nazis then planned to torpedo, so there would be no evidence of their atrocities.

However, on its way to the coast the train was bombed by the RAF. The terrified prisoners were then loaded onto another train which set off again for the coast – only to be bombed again by the British.

When a third train arrived, the prisoners refused to board it. Soon after, the SS guards abandoned the prisoners, who were eventually liberated by the Allies. After the war, Mindu eventually settled in Birmingham.

Mindu herself believes tolerance is the key lesson from her experience, and found the students to be very engaging:

“They were lovely children – they asked some very good questions.

I do what I do because of what’s going on in the world. My message is always the same: to be tolerant, to stand up for those being persecuted, and never to hate. Hatred has catastrophic consequences.

It is more important now than ever that we have people talking.”