The race to ensure the memory of the Holocaust is kept alive for future generations has been boosted by £1.5m funding from the Government.
A £1.1m cash injection will enable testimony to be taken from survivors whose experiences have not yet been recorded, including an emergency drive to reach the most elderly survivors and liberators before the summer, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles announced yesterday.
The first Government funding for the Holocaust Centre in Nottingham will also enable it to complete a state-of-the-art project where 10 survivors are recorded answering 900 questions, enabling interactive engagement with their testimony for decades to come.
There was also a boost for the translation and digitisation of records at the Wiener Library where some of the collection of one million items have until now remained inaccessible.
With fewer survivors to speak in person about their experiences every day, the prime minister’s Holocaust Commission recommended in January an urgent drive to taken down testimony.
Speaking during his final official event before the dissolution of Parliament, Pickles said: “Individual stories and survivor testimonies provide the tools we need to help tell stories that are sometimes too shocking for words. It is all of our collective responsibility to educate future generations about the horrors of the Holocaust and never to forget why we need to challenge and combat the forces of hate.”
He also revealed that a number of 3D models of Bergen Belsen, liberated by British troops 70 years ago next month, will be produced and housed at the new UK learning centre in London – one of the major projects announced by the Commission earlier this year.
Karen Pollock of the Holocaust Educational Trust said: “In the course of our educational work across the UK, we are acutely aware that Holocaust survivors will not be able to share their stories forever and this funding, to help preserve their powerful testimony for the future, could provide a hugely significant tool in educating the next generation about the Holocaust.”
The event – an initiative between From The Depths and Pickles’ department and supported by the Holocaust Educational Trust – also saw the presentation of British Heroes of the Holocaust Medals to the families of three Britons who risked their lives to save a young Jewish girl in Nazi-occupied Poland.
William Ernest Fisher, Edwin Alan Hambling and Bill Keeble were part of a 10-strong group of British prisoners of war who hid Sara Rigler, 15 in a hayloft in the camp where they were held after she escaped from a death March.
Pickles described them as “shining beacons of hope” who showcased the “very best of British values”.
Hambling’s grandson Adam Baird wasn’t even sure of his grandfather’s name until he was tracked down by a Jewish private investigator in search of the family’s of the heroes who saved Rigler. Speaking to survivors gathered at the event, he vowed to continue telling others what had happened as he had to pupils at the school where he teaches music in the days before the ceremony. Baird – who said “proud and honoured” to collect the medal – added: “BWhen I first heard the stort I didn’t have any personal connection to the minute’s silences and the war stories and now I’ve hot this amazing story. My pupils are now two steps away from a very important story. Hopefully my pupils will tell other people and it will spread.”
The ceremony also saw Grand Rabbi Elyakim Schlesinger, a man at the forefront of saving and preserving Jewish Cemeteries and mass graves all over Europe, presented with one of the special commemorative medals commissioned by the Treasury to mark 70 years since the end of the Holocaust by Communities Minister Lord Ahmad.
Meanwhile, the gathering saw the launch of an international project enabling survivors to complete a Torah scroll saved for the Nazis, and recently discovered by students volunteering with From The Depths.
Guests gathered around the scroll as survivors helped write letters. The restoration project will continue in states across America as well as in France, Brazil and Argentina before its completion in Israel where it will housed at the Knesset synagogue.
Breaking from his pre-prepared speech, Pickles – who saw the work of From the Depths first hand during a visit to Poland in January – said each letter restored in the Torah was a “victory” against the Nazis.
Jonny Daniels, who founded the organisation, said: “It is an honour to start the process of renewing this Torah scroll with the British Government. We are truly thankful to Eric Pickles for all his is dong to ensure the memory of the Holocaust is kept alive.”