Feb. 3, 2020
We were privileged to partner with Lanchester Primary to host Sigmund 'Sigi' Ciffar to share his story with not only pupils from the school, but over 100 pupils, teachers and parents from 25 schools across the North East of England.
Sigi’s story is told within Serial Mash in nine chapters, starting with his early life in Hungary. It takes children on a journey from his village, where he lived with his parents and nine siblings. It follows him during the Nazi occupation of Hungary to the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria, where he was a slave labourer. He recalls a brush with a childhood friend-turned-Nazi who helped him to survive. The last two chapters follow Mr Ciffer from May 1945, when he was liberated alongside his brother. From a camp for displaced people in Italy, they go home only to find devastation. It took him more than a year to obtain the documents to travel to Britain. At the end of the final chapter, children learn that Mr Ciffer’s parents and six of his siblings were killed by the Nazis.
During the day, children read chapters from the book and Sigi took part in a question and answer session with the children. He told them that he was determined to look after himself and not live on charity, he was also asked if he ever lost hope to which he responded that he felt that his mother was his guardian angel and he survived to be able to tell her he made it through.
Sigi explained to the schools that whenever he tells his story he gets energy and he wants people to know what happened but that they should know how important it is to be kind to each other.
When asked what lessons he would like to share with the children he replied:
Some of these people didn’t realise what was right - they did what they were told. I think of most importance is to give charity and to support those less fortunate. Any money raised from publishing my story is going to charity. Just keep on trying until you succeed and normally you will.
Jane Davies Head Teacher from Lanchester Primary:
It was an absolute pleasure to meet Sigi last week. He was an inspiration to us all. The children were just fascinated by him and the fact that they got to meet a real life primary history source! He is so resilient, positive, compassionate and forgiving to those who took so much away from him. We’ve all got so much to learn from him and his positivity is something which we should all remember. He really is a true gentleman.
The Digital Leaders from Lanchester Primary also reflected on the visit and shared their thoughts with us:
Year 6 :
I thought it was really nice for Sigi to come in and tell us his story. I thought his story was sad but very special and inspirational. It was an honour to have Sigi in our school and for him to talk to us about his experiences. If it was a teacher reading his story to us then we wouldn't have really understood what he went through and wouldn't properly understand his feelings. It was upsetting to hear that some people didn't believe his story.
When Sigi came and visited our school and talk about the hardships he had as a young man, I really didn't know how hard living conditions were for some during the Holocaust. Sigi told me so much information. It was amazing being able to listen to him talk.
What was amazing for me was to hear how Sigi had forgiven the people who had put him in the labour camps. He was very inspiring for the future generations.
Before Sigi came, I didn't really know that much about the Holocaust. Hearing him talk it made me realise how hard it must have been for some people. I learned so much from him.
It was fascinating to listen to somebody who had lived through such terrible conditions but he showed so much forgiveness too. He was very inspirational to listen to.
Sigi was also interviewed on the day by Radio Newcastle – you can listen to the audio of the interview (1:20) here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p0807cm8
Sigi still lives in London with his wife of 66 years, who is also a Holocaust survivor. They have three children, nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.