A Talk with Eric Cohen: Son and Grandson of Holocaust Victims
Posted on: 7 April 2021 by Rachel Evans in 2021 posts
On 8th of March 2021, German final-year students were fortunate enough to talk to Zeitzeuge Eric Cohen, a son and grandson of victims of the Holocaust.
Eric spoke to us openly about the traumas experienced by his relatives in Vienna, Austria, the effects of the Holocaust on his parents, and how he continues to retell the accounts of his loved ones to all ages to ensure their stories are never forgotten.
Eric, considering this was his first time talking to University students about his experiences, delivered an emotional, detailed and intriguing account of the traumas his loved ones experienced. A London-born former head teacher from Liverpool, Eric recalled how he has never met his grandparents as they were murdered in Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, and how his father spent 15 months imprisoned in Bergen-Belsen camp which left his father with a lifetime of PTSD.
Whilst Eric reflected on years of tracking down and discovering the death of loved ones due to separation caused by the Nazis, Eric managed to skilfully infuse an appropriate amount of positivity to such a sensitive topic; a rare skill that is very hard to master. While answering one of our questions about whether his Austrian identity and pride has been threatened by the Nazi past of Austria considering how much the Nazis disrupted his life, he simply replied:
I am very happy. Why should I live my life hating the Germans and Austrians, when I can live my life not?
Eric has been educating primary school students about the Holocaust, proven by his naturally spontaneous humour, notably by referring to Nazis as Nastis and flaunting his Liverpool-FC branded kippah. Throughout his retirement, Eric wishes to continue delivering talks about the Holocaust and to educate all age groups on Judaism and antisemitism.
I truly cannot think of a better way to educate the younger ages on the realities and traumas of the Holocaust than to balance Jewish (and football) patriotism, an appropriate level of humour, and authentic heart-breaking experiences. Thank you, Eric!
Rachel Evans, final year student in German
“Every one of the students displayed engagement and respect whilst listening to my story. I intend to continue telling the Holocaust story as it is personal to me in memory of my murdered family.”
Student quotes from the experience:
“We were all fascinated listening to Eric talk about his family’s experiences with the Holocaust. We have studied the events in detail over the years but to hear a personal account, and speak to someone who still feels the lasting effects of the atrocities, brings it home in a new way. It was a really valuable conversation that I will always remember.”
Eleanor, final year student in German
Learning about history by listening to life stories of those who personally experienced historical events is a unique experience that helps us deeper understand the importance and implications of historical events in the historical context. Listening to Eric and learning about the impact antisemitism had on his life and the life of his family gives history a new, personal dimension.
Stan, final year student in German
“With no question too big or small for Eric, he was more than happy to listen to our thoughts and questions and was constantly making us laugh with his eccentric nature.
Eric has a great outlook on life and enjoys educating the younger generation. The experience was overall very humbling and didn’t feel like a lesson at all, it instead fascinated us in the classroom, whilst giving us a mutual respect for what the Jewish community encountered not only in the camps, but what has had an ever-lasting impression on the feelings and mental states of second-generation Jewish communities.
We would like to thank Eric for the great sense of humour he brought to our online classroom. We would also like to thank him for the realistic and eye-opening stories he told us that were very personal. We wish Eric and his beloved family the best for his future, and hope that he continues bringing a light that never seems to go out! (Excuse the Shabbat pun!)”
Sophie, final year student in German