A giant memorial that would be seen by millions of people each year and a ban on Holocaust denial in the UK were among recommendations made to David Cameron’s Holocaust Commission during one of the largest ever gathering of survivors in London.
Hundreds of survivors and refugees descended on Wembley Stadium on Monday to give their views on what more the Government should do to ensure the memory of the Shoah lives on for future generations.
The Commission – whose members include leading figures from the three main political parties, broadcaster Natasha Kaplinsky, actress Helena Bonham Carter and the Chief Rabbi – have already travelled across the country and even to Israel to gather evidence.
Many of the survivors were joined by children and grandchildren for the historic session, which opened with a message from Hollywood director Steven Spielberg – whose Shoah Foundation has recorded 52,000 testimonies – stressing the importance of the contribution from those who suffered at the hands of the Nazis.
“With the support, wisdom and experience of survivors to guide the commission, we will aspire to reach classrooms, museums and homes everywhere with a message of tolerance and mutual respect,” he wrote. “I am humbled by how many survivors have made education their life mission.”
But those in attendance were challenged by host Kaplinsky to examine what educational initiatives should be pursued after the survivors are no longer alive. Auschwitz survivor Lily Ebert, who spoke publically about her experiences every day last week alone, said recording more testimonies was one of the most important ways of ensuring the lessons of the Holocaust are passed on.
“Even today, when the survivors are here, there are deniers. What will happen in a few years’ time when nobody will be here?” she asked.
Rosemary Smith travelled to London from the Lake District Holocaust Project. She said there was a need for “different hubs within the UK like our centre, to get information and do research”.
Turning to commemorating the millions killed by the Nazis, Mike Levy – one of the dozens of volunteers from the Holocaust Educational Trust and Holocaust Survivors’ Centre recording views on the day – said his group felt the focus should be on “people rather than buildings”.
“They were against putting money into a large prestigious building, but thought there was need for more in terms of training teachers and teaching the second generation to pass on the message,” he said. The group also suggested scholarships to study the Shoah and further help to enable HET to take schoolchildren to other sites as well as Auschwitz.
Another group suggested a giant memorial of the prominence of Anish Kapoor’s Orbit at the Olympic Park. Volunteer Timea Varga, whose grandmother survived in hiding, suggested a prominent museum would be appropriate.
Though she acknowledged Britain was well ahead of other countries in remembering the Shoah, she said: “It’s impossible to bring every British student to Auschwitz, but a museum in the capital would be so much more accessible.”
Stressing the importance of listening to the survivors’ broad views, Commission chairman Mick Davis told the Jewish News he expected the panel would make “some broad-ranging recommendations to supplement the fantastic educational initiatives that already take place in this country and some specific recommendations around commemoration. There’s a general consensus there isn’t sufficient commemoration.”
Meanwhile, survivor Ben Helfgott was presented with the Point of Light award by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles in recognition of his volunteering and work for reconciliation between non-Jewish Poles and Jews.
WHAT SURVIVORS SAY:
- Miriam Freedman, hidden in Czechoslovakia.
“The contribution to Britain in so many fields by the survivors who came here and other Jews is enormous – and often forgotten. I would like this stressed in education. Those who went through genocide were still able to educate themselves and Britain provided these opportunities to flourish.”
- Henry Wermuth, survived Auschwitz and was involved in a 1942 plot to assassinate Hitler
“The Holocaust is too big to be just a detail of history, as Jean-Marie Le Pen put it. But it will be if survivors and their children don’t continue to pass on what happened. Every survivor should tell their children and grandchildren what happened. There should also be a survivors event like this every year to educate teachers.”
- Lily Ebert, survived Auschwitz
We have enough memorials. We have enough museums. What we need are people to pass on the message when we are no longer here. It would be ideal if the second generation wanted to do this, but if not, it is down to teachers. We have to teach tolerance. I also think there should be a separate memorial day just for the Holocaust. It stands out because the Nazis wanted to kill us because we were Jews and for no other reason.”