Tom Leimdorfer was Headmaster of Sidcot and it was a great pleasure to welcome him back to school on Monday 27 January, which was also Holocaust Memorial Day. Tom gave an inspirational assembly presentation that provided a poignant introduction to this important day of remembrance. He admitted to being a little nervous at the prospect of addressing the assembled students, although it brought back happy memories of when he used to do so as Head. By sharing five photographs of his family, Tom told his story; it involved suffering, fear, escape, and loss, but it also spoke of hope, respect, forgiveness and tolerance. Many students were deeply impressed by Tom’s final message which, quoting pastor Niemoller, asks us to speak up against things we know to be wrong.
He shared with us his memories of being a young child growing up in Hungary, during that dark period of history, when the Third Reich was in the ascendancy in Germany. Tom spoke movingly about those he knew that had fled their homes in fear and of others who were condemned to death in Nazi concentration camps. His messages resonated with the marking of Holocaust Memorial Day.
This is a difficult subject to talk about even now, yet Tom was able to both engage and move his audience with the quiet sincerity of his recollections. In his eloquent exposition, Tom painted pictures both of horror and of humanity through the accounts he gave. It occurs to me that this is exactly what a historian should do; present the facts in a way that allows others to make their own judgements and draw their own conclusions. This, Tom was able to do and the warmth of the sustained applause he received was testament to his talent and expertise as a narrator. It was a privilege to have him address us and I hope Tom will return to Sidcot often.
Tom’s visit also included sessions with both Year 10, who were travelling to Berlin and Year 11 who examined the topic of dictatorship. Tom’s lunchtime talk was about the events of the past, how they are recorded and interpreted. History shows that we haven’t learned the lessons of the past and that there are so many examples of man’s inhumanity to man; Rwanda, Bosnia, Egypt, Iraq, Northern Ireland, Syria, the list goes on. Whatever our own history and background, Tom invited us to share our differences and to celebrate our similarities. Whilst we can’t individually put an end to continued persecution, we can all be agents of change.
Niemöller is perhaps best remembered for the quotation:
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Socialist.”
“Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Trade Unionist.”
“Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew.”
“Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.”