Young Hartlepool people inspired by Holocaust survivor

Teacher Barbara Rackstraw, Holocaust survivor Martin Stern and students from English Martyrs Sixth Form College.
Teacher Barbara Rackstraw, Holocaust survivor Martin Stern and students from English Martyrs Sixth Form College.

Sixth form college srtudents from Hartlepool were inspired by a visit from a Holocaust survivor.

Martin Stern went along to English Martyrs Sixth Form College to spend a day with history and psychology students and talk to them about his experiences.

This day will stay with me for a long time

Barbara Rackstraw

The 79-year-old, now a retired immunologist, told the teenagers about how he was arrested in his school classroom aged just five-years-old because his father was a Jew.

His parents, both German, had fled to Holland before the war, but his non-Jewish mother died in hospital shortly after giving birth to his younger sister.

Martin told the children how his father was being hidden by courageous farmers near Amsterdam airport after the German invasion, but was eventually captured and this was the last time he ever saw him.

Along with his one-year-old sister, Erica, Martin was imprisoned in Theresienstadt, where a Dutch woman, Catharina Casoeto De Jong, who had been imprisoned for marrying a Jewish market trader, began looking after them.

Catharina would bring the pair food from the ghetto kitchen and kept them safe. Martin said she saved their lives by risking her own life each day.

Thankfully the youngsters were eventually freed and Martin went on to study medicine at Oxford, becoming an immunologist and an authority on asthma, while Erica, who died in 2007, returned to the Netherlands and taught at the University of Utrecht.

Barbara Rackstraw, teacher of psychology at the sixth form college, said: “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.”

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

And, Alice Eyre, a fellow student, said: “How can someone with those experiences still be so positive about the world?

“He was amazing.”