In recognition of Holocaust Memorial Day, Ruth and her husband Werner Lachs of Prestwich, and Itzik Alteman of Whitefield, spoke to Year 9 pupils at Manchester Grammar School (MGS) about how they survived the Holocaust, and the importance of educating future generations about those horrific events so they are never forgotten.
In an emotional speech, Itzik spoke of how he is the sole survivor of his family, having seen his mother, sister and brother – and later, his father – taken away to be killed.
He told of the brutal conditions inside the camps and how he was forced onto a death march – aged just 13 years-old – just two days before his concentration camp was liberated by the Russian army. In freezing, snowy conditions, Itzik was one of only a few hundred people out of the 6,000 who started the march to survive.
Itzik, 90, showed boys the infamous tattoo on his arm from the Birkenau camp, and explained why he is now telling his story: “For a long time I could only talk to other survivors…it was too raw. But now, as I am getting older, I want younger generations to hear about the atrocities we went through, and to impress upon them the need to make sure it never happens again, and to fight prejudice and hatred.”
One of the war’s hidden children, Ruth, 82, spent the majority of the war forced to disguise her identity. She and her parents emigrated to Amsterdam after the traumatic events of Kristallnacht, but after the Germans invaded the Netherlands, her father forced her into hiding. She was sent – aged just six – to live with a Dutch couple who offered her sanctuary, where she had no choice but to change her identity.
In 1943, when someone tipped-off the Nazis that the couple were harbouring Jewish children, she was taken to a children’s centre, during which time she had to hide in a sandpit as the SS called to round-up the children. She was eventually smuggled on a train to refuge overseas by a non-Jewish student from an underground opposition movement.
After the war ended, her parents were traced through the Red Cross and they were reunited when Ruth was nine. She moved to Manchester in 1962 where she met Werner, (who was also forced to flee Germany following Kristallnacht) and the couple have been married for more than 55 years, their son going on to attend MGS.
“Thanks to all the people who helped me, I stand here today a wife, a mother, a grandmother and a great-grandmother”, said Ruth. My family are the legacy of all those – some of whom lost their lives – who chose to do good when surrounded by evil.”