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Old Boy Shares Story of Escaping Holocaust

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Year 6 had the opportunity to meet and hear from Old Boy John Kohorn, who told the incredible story of his family’s journey to England to escape Nazi persecution in 1939. The visit helped to bring to life pupils’ learning about the Second World War.

John was accompanied by his daughter, Old Girl Sharon Kohorn (Class of 1979), who conducted a casual interview about his personal history. He talked about his childhood in a German-speaking part of Czechoslovakia and the invasion of this area by Hitler’s army in 1938, when he was six years old. The family fled to Prague and his father went ahead to England, in the hopes of securing a job so that the family could join him. However, the rest of Czechoslovakia was invaded in 1939 and, because of the danger to Jewish people, his mother sent a telegram to his father telling him, “Do not come back.”

For the next six months, she queued outside the embassy every day to obtain visas and finally, in August 1939 just days before the borders closed, John and his mother, brother and grandmother left Czechoslovakia. The journey to England by train and by boat was peppered with his personal recollections from that time.  When they arrived, they were grateful to be safe – even though, at that time, he didn’t speak any English.

John spoke poignantly about the Holocaust and the concentration camps where so many people died and called this period “one of the most terrible times Europe has ever experienced.” He revealed that the rest of his family was killed in concentration camps, apart from one of his father’s cousins.

Eventually, John became a pupil at Bolton School from 1942 to 1951 alongside his older brother Ernest (1940-1946). The headmaster at the time, Mr Poskitt, took them in and changed their lives. John added that he was lucky to go to Bolton School and that he met many wonderful people, including friends he still has today. He shared some of his fondest memories, including his two-year stint as a member of the 1st XI Football team during which he scored 85 goals. As a former member of the Chess club, he was delighted to learn that the Junior Girls are keen chess players.

John’s visit was a valuable opportunity for pupils to see historical events from their textbooks through the eyes of someone who lived through that time period.

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