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13 November 2014

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You are in: Suffolk > History > Local history > Living history

Jewish School, Prague, 1942

Jewish School, Prague, 1942

Living history

A survivor of the Nazi Holocaust, who moved to England after the war, is telling his remarkable story in schools across Suffolk. On Holocaust Memorial Day he'll be working with history pupils from seven high schools.

Frank Bright was a schoolboy when his family fled Germany in the 1930s. However, they only went as far as Czechoslovakia and were eventually sent to Jewish ghettos. Frank believes his parents perished in Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland.

Suffolk's education authority is working with Frank to bring history alive. On Holocaust Memorial Day 2009, he'll be at Thomas Mills High in Framlingham for a Schools History Day Conference.

Frank, who lives near Ipswich, said: "I want to perpetuate the memory of my classmates who are dead. Only very, very few survived and I've made it my job to do it for them.

"I'm the only local survivor. Before I disappear fast [Frank turned 80 in October 2008], I want to help people to understand what happened."

Secondary evidence

A photograph exists of the Jewish School in Prague which Frank went to (he's number 14 in the picture). Most of the children in the picture died during the Second World War. It was the centrepiece of the 'Strings' exhibition at Endeavour House in Ipswich in 2008.

Dale Banham is Suffolk County Council's History Advisor: "The pupils will be using original documents provided by Frank to find out what happened to people in the class after their school was closed down.

Auschwitz railtrack

Auschwitz, Poland

"Since Frank's retired, he's spent a lot of time finding out what happened to each individual pupil in the photo.

"He's probably worked with around 50 pupils now and I think most of them would say it's been the most moving part of their education. He's been interviewed by pupils - the personal connection is absolutely crucial.

"Holocaust denial is an important thing and we've tried to tackle that head-on. All the transports to the concentration camps were so well-documented by the Germans and it provides very clear evidence of the scale of the Holocaust.

"Pupils on the day will get a respect for evidence and it's absolutely crucial that history is based on evidence and documentary source material."

Frank Bright said the reaction of pupils to his story is positive: "I find the reception very good. They're very interested and they ask intelligent questions.

"What's so useful is that I'm stepping out of that class photograph projected on the screen and here I am telling them how it was and some of the details - how we were deprived of food and clothing and how we had to hand in anything from musical instruments and radios to woollens.

"You can have history taught as dry as dust. You can give the figures - a million and a half children killed; six million all together - but it can just seem unbelievable.

"That makes it more real - to have a real survivor talking to them."

Frank is also involved with the Martlesham Heath Aviation Society which runs the Control Tower Museum at the former airfield near Ipswich.

Dresden to Deben

Frank also helps provide schools with new books. One caught his eye because he's a member of the Martlesham Heath Aviation Society and has an interest in aerial warfare.

'Buch der Erinnerung' (Book of Memory - The Jews of Dresden) was presented to Deben High in Felixstowe and Frank talked about the British bombing of Dresden in the latter stages of the Second World War: "99.9% of the Jews there were murdered.

Frank Bright

Frank Bright, 2008

"People have said 'Oh those poor Dresdeners. They're all civilians and it was so close to the end of the war it [the Allied bombing] shouldn't have happened'.

"As a result Bomber Command never got a medal, so I'm trying to put it right. The Dresdeners themselves were Nazis through-and-through, and, like Sodom and Gomorrah, there were not 10 just men amongst them and they deserved what they got.

"Besides, many of those who died were forced labourers and not even Dresdeners. It was also an important rail centre for traffic to the east and the Russians had specifically asked for it to be bombed.

"It had something like 150-200 small industries manufacturing war materials and, worst of all, it actually had a concentration camp in the town.

"I make it my business to point it out."

The other schools involved in the Schools History Day Conference are Farlingaye in Woodbridge, Copleston and Holywells in Ipswich, Deben and Orwell in Felixstowe and Stradbroke.

A Trust Fund is being set-up to help pupils to go on Holocaust-related study visits - particularly for pupils who aren't so well-off. It could mean pupils visit places connected with Frank's story such as Prague, the Jewish ghetto of Theresienstadt and Auschwitz.

Other MHD events

Holocaust Memorial Day takes place every year on 27 January. In 2009, the BBC dramatised The Diary Of Anne Frank - the story of a Jewish girl whose family hid in an attic in Holland.

Belsen gravestone

Belsen gravestone

Eventually, they were discovered and Anne was murdered at Belsen concentration camp in Germany. The acclaimed five-part drama starring Ellie Kendrick as Anne Frank was on  BBC One television in January for five consecutive days.

On Tuesday 27 January, there'll be an 'Exhibition & Reflection' in the Robert Cross Hall at Ipswich's Town Hall (1000-1800 hrs). It'll include a lunchtime event (1300-1345 hrs) introduced by the Mayor and featuring a commitment read by the leader of Suffolk County Council.

At Bury St Edmunds' Abbey Gardens, an Act of Remembrance service will take place in the Holocaust Memorial Garden at 1030 hrs led by the Cathedral's Canon Cedric Catton. Meet just inside the Abbey Gates beforehand.

last updated: 26/01/2009 at 10:35
created: 16/12/2008

You are in: Suffolk > History > Local history > Living history

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