Belfast Telegraph

Victims needn’t always forgive, Nazi Holocaust survivor tells Northern Ireland students

By Donna Deeney

A Jewish Holocaust survivor has told students that victims should not always forgive.

Dr Martin Stern was speaking at a Magilligan Prison exhibition that includes the names of 600 children killed in Nazi death camps.

The powerful jail exhibition features a Nissen hut where prisoners have documented the details of the tragic youngsters.

Dr Stern also spoke of his own experience of being detained by the Nazis at the age of five along with his one-year-old sister when he met with pupils from Oakgrove Integrated School.

They are among hundreds of students Dr Stern will talk to about the Holocaust during a four-day visit to the north west this week.

Dr Stern said there were lessons from World War Two which still apply today, but the necessity to forgive is not one of them.

He said: "I was arrested at my pre-school when I was five by the Nazis and I ended up in a prison camp in the Netherlands called Westerbork with my sister.

"It was barbed wire, watchtowers, armed soldiers with guns in those watchtowers. First thing I was told on arrival was: 'Don't go anywhere near the barbed wire because you'll be shot'.

"I landed in a building they called an orphanage - it was for children who were there without their parents."

He recalled pleading for food "and being told there wasn't any".

But Dr Stern and his sister survived thanks largely to the efforts of one woman who risked her own life for them.

"She brought cooked food to us in the dormitory," he explained.

"This in a place where the SS would climb through a window of a dormitory, tell everybody to stand to attention, do it quickly and unexpectedly.

"A man found with one cigarette in his pocket would be shot, and she was stealing food - she was risking her life so we never starved."

Dr Stern and his sister were rescued, and he now spends his time educating younger generations about the horrors of the Holocaust so that lessons can be learned.

He said: "If someone really got an insight into what they had done and truly repents and tries to live differently, in my mind they wouldn't need forgiving.

"If there are those who are unrepentant, I think it is wrong to forgive them.

"And if they have killed someone else, it is not my job to forgive them. If you are talking to people about their own conflict you very quickly hit a brick wall.

"The reason the conflict exists is because of extremely strongly held ideas that an outsider is not going to change.

"The only way to get people to think constructively is to use another situation and hope they see the general principles and that they realise those general principles apply to them in their situation."

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