West London resident Uri Winterstein was born into a Jewish family in Czechoslovakia (now the Slovak Republic) during the Second World War and helped mark Holocaust Memorial Day with his powerful personal story.
He speaks about his family in a moving YouTube talk – specially commissioned and recorded for Hammersmith & Fulham Council – relating how nine uncles, aunts and cousins were killed in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.
“As melodramatic as it sounds, I was born under a death sentence, because the Nazis had made the decision to exterminate all Jews in territory they held,” he said, adding that babies were at risk because they had no value as slave labour.
Born in October 1943, he was put into the care of a non-Jewish family for his safety and did not see his parents again until after the war. “I can only describe my survival as pure luck.”
Members of his family were forcibly deported, each with a single suitcase, and died in the Auschwitz gas chambers; the oldest, his 91-year-old great-grandmother, the youngest, his nine-year-old cousin.
“Uri’s tale is harrowing, but it is also a story of hope,” said Cllr Sue Fennimore, Deputy Leader of H&F Council. "He has been speaking in schools since 2013 in events organised by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, and we are grateful that he has shared his family’s history with us.”
Fight against prejudice
Mr Winterstein, married with three children and five grandchildren and now living in Chiswick, warns about allowing extremism to flourish. “I’m trying to speak about the future, but if we don’t learn from the past we’ll repeat the mistakes of the past,” he said. “Prejudice magnifies differences. When you hear extreme ideologies, you have to fight against them.”
He added that it was a privilege to be able to speak to H&F residents about his family, but Cllr Fennimore insisted that the privilege belonged to the borough residents and workforce who were able to listen to his powerful story.
A question and answer session follows the talk in which Mr Winterstein is asked about how he told his children about the horrors his family suffered.
Holocaust Memorial Day
To mark Holocaust Memorial Day, residents were urged to join the nation, light a candle and display it in a window to remember those who were murdered for who they were, and to take a stand against prejudice.
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