Charles hosts a sit-down with survivors
THERE WAS an empty chair at each of the 15 tables at a St James’s Palace reception for survivors of the Holocaust and later genocides hosted by Prince Charles in his capacity as patron of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust.
For rather than give a speech to the 100-plus guests, the Prince wanted to talk to them informally.
“It bowls me over that the Royal family is taking this personal interest in people whose lives have been dynamited and who have managed to make a new life in Great Britain,” observed Martin Frank, a survivor of Theresienstadt.
“He went out of his way to speak with everybody, so none of the conversations were that long. But it shows he is doing his job with the utmost of conscientiousness.”
Olivia Marks-Woldman, chief executive of the trust, said: “He’s a patron of a huge number of charities so to take on another one is a real demonstration of his commitment.”
Some of the guests had met him before, such as Kurt Marx, who came to Britain on the Kindertransport. For others it was a first. Ivan Weider, a survivor of four camps, including Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, rolled up his sleeve to show Prince Charles the camp numbers tattooed on his arm.
“I wanted to make him aware of it,” Mr Weider said.
“But he said he did know because when he was studying somewhere, his teacher also had a number on his arm.
“It reminds you, an occasion like this, of the past.”
Although many of the survivors have been telling their stories for years, it is a relatively new experience for others such as Nachmi Barsam. Born in the Netherlands, he managed to escape, via France, to Switzerland in 1942, along with his father and brother.
“Somehow we weren’t kicked out,” he said.
He vividly recalled the date of entry, September 21 1942. “It was Yom Kippur.”
Communities Secretary Sajid Javid told a story he had heard from Ben Helfgott, the honorary president of HMDT and a survivor of Buchenwald and Theresienstadt.
Mr Helfgott came to Britain as a refugee after the war, going on to represent the country as an Olympic weightlifter.
“I feel so happy for him and people like him who were able to survive — obviously so many people lost their lives — and that Britain was able to play a small but important role in trying to help,” Mr Javid said.
“It’s those very personal stories, I think, that make a difference when people hear them. That’s what I want shared with young people.
“I want to hear that kind of stuff in their school assemblies because it makes so much more difference when you hear it from someone who has gone through all that.”
Asked about the message the government was sending to schoolchildren by cutting the quota of refugee children promised asylum in Britain from 3,000 to 350, Mr Javid responded “that the UK government can play a role in many, many different ways.
“I would just say to people: ‘Don’t focus on the one thing. Look at the broader picture of what the UK does.’”
He went out of his way to speak with everybody’
Prince Charles with survivors at the St James’s Palace event — a space was left at every table so he could chat to all the guests