Stories of sorrow and hope as UK remembers
BEN HELFGOTT had a message for the 3,000 people at the UK’s main Yom Hashoah event at Barnet Copthall Stadium on Sunday.
“We, the survivors, cannot carry on forever,” the 87-year-old said. “But looking out and seeing so many of you here with us, we are passing on the baton of remembrance to you with hope and confidence.”
On the event’s theme of “women’s resistance”, Game of Thrones actress Laura Pradelska spoke movingly about the experiences of her two grandmothers, Esther and Clara.
Clara was originally sent to the Nowy Sacz ghetto and later transported to Auschwitz Birkenau. The Nazis killed her parents, siblings, husband and eight-month-old son. She remarried a fellow survivor.
Because of her blonde hair, blue eyes and ability to speak Polish without a Yiddish accent, Esther obtained forged transit papers. She managed to save her two young nieces, Naomi and Eva, adopting them after the war.
“Because of Esther’s intuitiveness, wisdom and, above all, bravery, I am so lucky to have my incredible aunts today,” Ms Pradelska said.
She also paid tribute to her mother Minka, who was among the audience.
“My parents told me from early childhood where I’d come from and what my family had been through.
“Today, in the face of antisemitism, racism and terrorism, I so strongly believe that we must tell these stories for generations to come.”
Yom Hashoah commemoration has grown in the UK in recent years.
“I remember we used to gather at the small Holocaust memorial in Hyde Park,” said Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust.
“But as the survivors got older, it [the ceremony] got moved to a room — it was losing its connection with the Jewish community. A number of people decided it needed to be revived.”
Now thousands across the UK gather to remember and honour Shoah victims and more than 130 communal organisations are registered partners, among them the United Synagogue, Masorti, Reform and Liberal Judaism.
Sadiq Khan and Lord Howard were among political figures at the Barnet ceremony. Last year’s Yom Hashoah event was Mr Khan’s first public engagement as London Mayor and he told the crowd he was “honoured to be invited to join you once again”.
Israeli ambassador Mark Regev described his “immensely personal” connection to Yom Hashoah, talking about his late father, born in Germany in 1931.
“In the living room of my childhood home, there was a picture of my father with his Jewish classmates in 1938 on a school outing,” he said.
“Of those 30 smiling children pictured, only four survived. One was my father, another was my uncle.”
Surrounded by 150 schoolchildren, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis declared that there was hope “so long as our children will declare ‘never again’.”
In Israel, Yom Hashoah is the official day of Holocaust remembrance. In the UK, Holocaust Memorial Day is observed on January 27.
But the chief executives of Yom Hashoah UK and the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust (HMDT) stress ed that the memorials are complementary.
“On Holocaust Memorial Day the Jewish community helps the rest of society understand what happened and make sure it never happens again,” said
Neil Martin of Yom Hashoah UK.
“But on Yom Hashoah, the Jewish community comes together to mourn internally and to educate its own young people for the future. Two very vital days with two separate purposes”.
His HMDT counterpart Olivia MarksWoldman agreed that “HMD is predominantly for the non-Jewish world to understand the impact the Holocaust had and its significance for everybody, no matter their background, faith, or age. Yom Hashoah is for the Jewish people to mourn our dead.”
The small Holocaust monument in Hyde Park is set to be superseded by a new memorial next to the Houses of Parliament, with 10 designs currently under consideration.
For survivors, it seems location outweighs design in importance.
“I might like one [design], he might like another,” said Zigi Shipper, gesturing to a fellow survivor, Janek Goldberger.
“Whichever one will lead, we will be happy.”
“There are thousands of people a day walking around there [Westminster],” Mr Goldberger said. “What is so important to me is that it is a prominent place — you cannot ignore it.”
Laura Pradelska addressing the 3,00o crowd at Barnet Copthall Stadium
Ben Helfgott with Sadiq Khan