Holocaust Educational Trust Ambassador Blog

Interview with a Holocaust survivor: Jackie Young

Welcome to our series interviewing Holocaust survivors with the questions that Ambassadors want to know the answers to.

Jackie Young as a childJackie Young as a child

In our first interview we spoke to survivor Jackie Young. Jackie was born in Austria, Vienna in December 1941. As a baby, he was left in a Jewish orphanage and at the age of 9 months, he was taken from the orphanage and deported to Theresienstadt. After liberation in May 1945, he was brought to England on a British Government initiative that brought 732 young Holocaust survivors to settle in Britain, commonly known as ‘The Boys’. He was brought with 5 other young children to a home in Sussex named Bulldogs Bank. Jackie was adopted when he was 9 years old, having no recollection of his past at all. It wasn’t until he wanted to get married that he found documents detailing where he was born, about his time in Theresienstadt and about his biological mother. Since then he has continued to research into his past to find out more about his life, family and identity.

You can read a summary of Jackie’s testimony on the website of the Association of Jewish Refugees.

You can also read in more depth about his story and discovering his past in the BBC's WW2 People’s War series.

Jackie spoke to Ambassadors during the ‘Your Legacy and Me’ takeover project with the Jewish Museum London and was one of the survivors featured in the legacy artwork pieces. To find out more about this project, click here to read an article by one of the participants – Regional Ambassador Michael Woodland.

When did you first tell your family about what happened to you? Was there one particular time or did they hear from you over many years?

I told my girlfriend, who eventually became my wife only a few weeks after dating her! I told both of our children just before their teens. Both my wife and children were very interested and understanding when they found out.

You went through such a lot at such a young age, but came to the UK as a child. Do you have any memories from when you arrived in the UK? Could you tell us a bit about any of your recovery and rehabilitation?

I have no memories from when I arrived in the UK. I used to have dreams that I could not get out of my head, I kept asking my foster parents who adopted me at 9 years old what the dreams were about.

From what I have found from researching, my first place of rehabilitation was at Bulldogs Bank, a house given to us by a very wonderful person called Lady Clark who lived nearby. I was there for 1 year with 5 other children. At first we were your worst nightmare according to two wonderful German Jewish ladies Sophie and Gertrude Dann who taught us to speak English. In that year we lost our mother tongue and learned how to behave. From there we were sent to another place called Weir Courtney, which was a few miles away and that’s where I was fostered by the people who finally adopted me at 9 years old 

Although you came to the UK when you were very young, have you ever encountered any antisemitism here?

Whilst a Bulldogs Bank one of the Dann’s sent me to a nearby school. I have no recollection of the antisemitic incident except that a boy at school called me a Nazi. I assume I told them back at the house so they didn’t send me back to that school again.

Can you comment a bit on justice after the Holocaust? What do you think about the trials of former Nazi guards who are now in their old age? Do you have any other thoughts on justice or forgiveness?

After the Anschluss, there was a Tsunami of indoctrination and hatred just for the sake of it. Almost overnight in Vienna your next-door neighbour, the local police and the schools who were very friendly the day before, were very nasty. Jewish people also had their businesses taken away from them with little to no compensation.

Jackie just after he came to the UKJackie just after he came to the UK

Unfortunately, an awful lot of guilty people didn’t receive justice. What I have read about the high-ranking Nazis is that a lot were helped by the church and other contacts and they were spirited away to South America. In doing so they did escape justice which is a shame. There is a statement I have heard that says ‘For justice to prevail sometimes the guilty go free’, but I do not think about them at all.

I do not hate, I have found hatred only consumes yourself.

Could you tell us a bit about why you started sharing your testimony with schools and other organisations? When was this? Did anything in particular prompt you to do so?

I thought for a long time about telling my life story but never plucked up the courage. About 10 years ago, by chance I met a boy who I was friends with until our teens as we used to live in the same flats. I had not seen him for a long time and we happened to meet in a shopping mall. We spoke about old times and it came out that he and most of our school  knew that I had been adopted. That’s when I told him the rest of my story. He told me that he had studied Psychology and suggested with his help I should go to schools to speak, and that is what we did. 

Could you name one thing that you want people to take from hearing your story?

The one thing I would like you to think about is not me but my birth Mother, who had a baby (me) at the age of 32 years old in Vienna in a very hostile time.   After only a few weeks I was taken away from her and a few months later, she was sent by train to Maly Trostonets, just outside of Minsk, Belarus (possibly taking 5 - 7 days). Upon arrival she was either put into a gas van or possibly shot.

Can you tell us why you think Holocaust education in general is important today?

For me the Holocaust carries such an important message for all of us today especially because of the deniers. By telling this terrible story it just might save Humanity for tomorrow.

What can Ambassadors for the Holocaust Educational Trust do to help people learn from your story, or what can the Ambassadors do to promote Holocaust remembrance?

Jackie as an adultJackie as an adult

Just by sharing all the things that happened. If we allow it to be forgotten, we really should be afraid of what might happen again.

Do you have any advice on how Ambassadors and young people can stand up to antisemitism or other forms of discrimination?

  • By learning from history: the good, the bad and the ugly.
  • Not hating anybody for their beliefs, the colour of their skin or any other differences there may be between people.
  • Have a lot of empathy for others.

Lastly, can you talk to us about faith. Do you retain a faith after the Holocaust? What does Judaism mean to you?

I know my birth mother wanted me to be Jewish as I was circumcised in Vienna but as for any faith today I must confess have I have my doubts, however that is not because of the Holocaust.