It is with great sadness that we learn about the passing of another member of our survivor family. Rudi Oppenheimer, one of three siblings, endured the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp and survived The Holocaust with his brother Paul, and sister Eve.

With Rudi’s passing, all three Oppenheimer siblings are now no longer with us. So today, as we mourn the loss of Rudi himself, we also remember the strength which saw all three survive The Holocaust together and rebuild their lives.

The Oppenheimers were a middle class Jewish family, but Rudi stated that they hardly ever went to the synagogue and he didn't remember celebrating any Jewish festivals at home. The siblings enjoyed life together in Berlin.

When Rudi was four years old, his father moved them to England to live with his aunt and uncle, where he started nursery school and gradually learned English. His father, a banker, obtained a transfer to Amsterdam and the family joined him in Holland in September 1936 where Rudi enjoyed living by the coast. Germany invaded Holland in May 1940 and the Jewish population suffered under the Nuremberg laws that restricted their daily lives and human rights.

In June 1943 the family were taken by cattle train to Westerbork Concentration Camp where they stayed for seven months. It was the birth of Rudi’s younger sister Eve in Britain that would ultimately save the lives of the Oppenheimer siblings. Her British birth certification meant they were classified as ‘Exchange’ Jews and sent to the Sternlager camp within Bergen-Belsen. Their clothing bore the Star of David and prisoners were subjected to forced labour. 

February 1944 saw all ‘Exchange Jews’, including the Oppenheimer family, deported to Bergen-Belsen. Paul was 15, Rudi 12, and Eve 7. Their mother Rita fell ill and died January 1945 aged 42. Their father, Hans, passed away weeks later aged 43. The siblings were left to survive the starvation and disease rife within Bergen-Belsen.

Six days before the British Army reached Belsen, the ‘Exchange Jews’ were moved into the last of three trains, kept as hostages. They were forced to travel over 500 miles around Germany on a two week journey that saw them shot at by American planes. This became known as ‘The Last Train from Belsen’ and the prisoners helped each other to survive by eating grass and raw potatoes scavenged when they were let off the trains to hide and avoid air attacks. They survived the illness and starvation that many people on their train did not and were eventually liberated on 23 April 1945.

Paul Oppenheimer described their liberation as “anti-climatic. They were not expecting to be liberated, and were certainly not prepared” for it.

Rudi and Paul were treated for Typhus and were separated from Eve. A chance reunion enabled them to contact their family in London, Eve joining their aunt and uncle first followed by Rudi and Paul six months later.

For forty years thereafter they made a life in England and did not speak of the horrors that filled their childhood.

Eve lived in Lingfield House children’s home and eventually worked in her uncle’s glove business before securing her own flat. She was described by Paul as “the favourite aunt amongst the younger generation in the Oppenheimer family.” Eve passed away in 2017.

Paul studied engineering and worked in the motor industry. He played football, tennis, and table tennis. Paul was awarded an MBE in 1990 and spoke to hundreds of groups moving to try and avoid persecution of other people in the future. Paul passed away in 2007.

Rudi also became an engineer. Studying at Imperial College London and graduating with a degree in electrical engineering, he was a Shell employee for 34 years - often travelling overseas.

In his retirement, Rudi spoke tirelessly to school groups about his life and the experiences of his family. He shared his testimony with thousands of schoolchildren, highlighting the harm hate can do and the importance of standing up against it - even if you are just one person. He delivered his strong messages against hatred and prejudice and the insidious nature of not challenging it to groups of children and adults who were privileged to hear him and would never forget the experience.

Rudi worked endlessly to speak out about the Holocaust and to share his own and his family's story. The Oppenheimer siblings strove to make the world a better place for future generations. Their aim was to prevent the atrocities they endured happening ever again.

Rudi himself stated that “Standing by and doing nothing is not enough.”

You can listen to Rudi telling his life story to students at the Centre Rudi's Testimony