An Auschwitz-Birkenau survivor has shared his inspiring story of survival with prisoners as part of a special event to mark Holocaust Memorial Day.
Leslie Kleinman and his wife, Miriam Stein, visited the prison library at Her Majesty’s Prison & Youth Offender Institution Chelmsford (HMP &YOI Chelmsford) on Wednesday, 20 January, to speak of the atrocities he witnessed at the Nazi death camp.
Mr Kleinman talked very movingly to prisoners about his experience of the Holocaust at the camp and the dangers of what can happen when prejudice and discrimination are not challenged within society.
The visit was arranged to mark Holocaust Memorial Day on 27 January.
It comes as Essex Libraries relaunch their ‘Don’t Stand By’ Holocaust Memorial Day reading list which highlights thought-provoking books on the subject of the Holocaust.
During Mr Kleinman’s emotional visit, he recalled the harrowing moment he saw his father being taken away by the Nazis. He, his mother and seven siblings were then forced to travel for days in cattle wagons before their arrival at the death camp in southern Poland.
Leslie was spared from the gas chambers after lying about his age; tragically, his mother and younger siblings were not so fortunate. More heartbreak was to follow when his older sister died of typhoid just two days after the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1945.
Throughout his talk, Leslie recalled some of the horrors that he faced on a daily basis. It is a testament to just how remarkable a man he is, that he feels no hatred towards his captors.
The prisoners found his ability to forgive and to embrace all humanity to be truly inspiring and many of them took the time to individually thank him for coming to talk to them.
One commented that he was “an amazing inspiration and privilege to listen to”. Another added: “It has certainly made me realise we all take our lives for granted”.
The visit was the result of a partnership between Essex Libraries and the Children’s Support Service, UCL Centre for Holocaust Education Beacon School and Children’s Support Services. It is hoped that more work can be done in the future to educate prisoners about the Holocaust and the implications of prejudice and hate crime.
Cllr David Finch, Leader of Essex County Council, said: “It is vital that we never forget the atrocities that happened more than 70 years ago and learn the grim lessons of what can happen when prejudice and discrimination are left unchallenged within society.
“The Holocaust was a dark moment in human history but by educating ourselves and hearing the inspiring stories from survivors we can help to create a better and more tolerant society.”
Olivia Marks-Woldman, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, said: “It’s great to hear that Essex Libraries is taking the time to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day across the county. 27 January is a day for everyone to come together to remember the Holocaust, and the genocides that have taken place since then, to consider what we can learn from these horrific atrocities.
“The Holocaust happened because bystanders allowed the perpetrators to carry out the crime – this year we’re asking everyone to not to stand by to prejudice, discrimination and hate crime.”