Albert Silverstein on the Importance of Community

Dr. Albert Silverstein, pictured above, with the suitcase that he took with him on the Kindertransport trains.

Dr. Albert Silverstein, pictured above, with the suitcase that he took with him on the Kindertransport trains.

Dr. Albert Silverstein, pictured above, with the suitcase that he took with him on the Kindertransport trains.

Andover welcomed Dr. Albert Silverstein, Holocaust survivor and Professor Emeritus in the Department of Psychology at the University of Rhode Island, for All School Meeting (ASM) on Friday, January 31. Silverstein, originally from Graz, Austria, was in the Kindertransport program during World War II when he was a young child.

Silverstein began by recounting the historical context of his evacuation from his hometown and later his escape from Austria following the German invasion in 1938.

“When I was three and a half, the government of the nation I was born in, which was an independent republic then as it is now, was overthrown… Austria was essentially invaded by Germany in the year 1938… We were told to evacuate, and [I went to] live with a friend of my mother’s, and shortly after that, I was able as a child to escape Austria and its strongly anti-Semitic and largely anti-parliament attitude on a program called the Kindertransport program,” said Silverstein.

The Kindertransport program served to relocate Jewish children from Germany and Austria to various places in Europe. When Graz was invaded by German forces during the annexation of Austria in 1938, Silverstein was placed on a Kindertransport train. After arriving in London, England, he was taken in by the Walsh family, who fostered him for over three years.

“The Kindertransport association, which was an international program founded particularly for Britain and worked with by the Jewish communities of Germany and Austria evacuated [more] than 10,000 Jewish kids from the three major cities of Germany and Austria…I was one of those kids who got on one of those Kindertransport trains and traveled all the way across Austria and Germany, into Holland, up to the English Channel…At that point, the transportation of cars were put on a ferry that went across the channel rehooked up with an English locomotive. The termination of that journey was at Liverpool Street Station in London.”

Silverstein expressed his gratitude to the Walsh family for their role in sheltering him during the war. He remains in contact with the family, whom he grew close to, particularly the children.

“[The name Walsh] was always sacred to me, because I lived with them for, pretty close to, well more than three years. They saved my life, and they were good to me…and they weren’t Jewish, so there was no ethnic obligation for them to do this…I have been in touch, on very intimate terms, with the surviving Walshes,” said Silverstein.

According to Silverstein, his mother was able to meet him in England before they reunited with his father by volunteering as a chaperone for the last Kindertransport train out of Austria. In October of 1940, the Silverstein family moved to America.

Despite not being too familiar with the speaker before ASM, Sophie Glaser ’22 appreciated Silverstein’s talk in how he shared both personal and global history.

“Going into this week’s ASM, I actually didn’t know a lot about the speaker, so it was hard for me to have a clear idea of what he would talk about. I was really interested in hearing his story, and I liked how he combined history and his own life experiences to provide context for the terrible events of the time. I also was not expecting him to tie it into current events as much as he did, and I thought the points he made about xenophobia and oppression were really poignant,” said Glaser.

Glaser continued, “I was sitting next to a friend who was also Jewish, and we were able to support each other as we listened to Dr. Silverstein’s words that brought us a lot of grief and brought these horrific events to the forefront of our minds. There were definitely times I cried, but I think Dr. Silverstein also reminded me of the strength and the resilience of the Jewish community.”

Thomas Fritz, Instructor in History and Social Science, shared his insight regarding the importance of learning about events like the Holocaust. He was inspired by Silverstein’s story and believes that in keeping students educated, they will be equipped with the skills needed to confront these issues.

“It is important to remember, as Dr. Silverstein reminded us, the European concentration camps were liberated 75 years ago. While that may seem like ancient history for many, it is still an event [that] survivors can recount. And while we would like to think horrific genocides ended when those camps were liberated, we know otherwise. Even in the twenty-first century, atrocities are being committed against groups solely based on ethnicity or religion,” wrote Fritz in an email to The Phillipian.

Silverstein concluded his speech by emphasizing why he continues to travel around the world to speak with both schools and philanthropic organizations about his experience during the Holocaust and World War II.

“The Holocaust [is] the most egregious, and alas, successful example of this kind of bigotry…I am so horrified by this, and I know that the only alternative, the only medicine that can oppose this is education. It is the only hope, this kind of education for suppressing and curtailing the type of hatred that is so very common in human existence, and as I said, exists still today,” he said.