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

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