Standing by and doing nothing is not enough.

-Rudi Oppenheimer 

Rudi Oppenheimer was born in October 1931 in Berlin. The Oppenheimers were a middle-class Jewish family, but Rudi stated that they rarely went to the synagogue and didn’t celebrate any Jewish festivals at home. He and his family enjoyed life together in Berlin before the war.

Rudi’s father worked in a bank in Berlin and as life became harder for Jews in Germany, he decided to apply for a work transfer to Amsterdam. In the meantime, Rudi, his mother and older brother, Paul went to live with Rudi’s aunt and uncle in England. Rudi was four years old when moved to England, and shortly after arrival he started nursery school and gradually learned English. It was here that his mother gave birth to Rudi’s younger sister Eve.

Eventually, Rudi’s father obtained a transfer to a bank in Amsterdam and the family joined him in Holland in September 1936. When Germany invaded Holland in May 1940 and the Jewish population began to suffer increasingly under the Nuremberg laws that restricted their daily lives and human rights.

In June 1943 the family were taken by cattle truck to Westerbork concentration camp where they stayed for seven months. It was the British citizenship of Rudi’s younger sister Eve that would ultimately save the lives of the Oppenheimer siblings. Her British birth certification meant the family were classified as ‘Exchange Jews'.

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

Six days before the British Army reached Belsen, the ‘Exchange Jews’ were moved onto the last of three trains and 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 managed to survive this journey and were eventually liberated on 23 April 1945.

When they were liberated, Rudi and Paul were treated for Typhus and were separated from Eve. A chance reunion enabled them to contact their family in London, Eve joined their aunt and uncle first and were 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.

In his retirement, as well as being a long-term friend and supporter of the Museum, Rudi spoke tirelessly to school groups about his life and the experiences of his family during the Holocaust. He shared his testimony with thousands of schoolchildren and adults, 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.

The Collection

The museum houses documents, objects, and photographs donated by Rudi. It is our privilege to care for these artefacts and ensure they are available for future generations. The Museum's collection provides vital, tangible, evidence of the Holocaust. We are committed to ensuring we have everything we need to continue to tell our speaker's stories into the future. Please find a selection of objects below from the Rudi Oppenheimer Collection, you can also search our collections for further objects and information.