Yom Hashoah 13180

Ben Helfgott (Credit: John Rifkin)

By Justin Cohen, News Editor

Stirring speeches, heart-wrenching testimony and poignant music combined with record-breaking crowds to make Sunday’s ceremony one of the most moving events I’ve had the honour of covering during more than a decade at Jewish News.

Few could have walked away from this gathering without feeling it had left a mark and renewed their resolve to ensure the lessons of man’s worst crime against man are passed on.

But it was a meeting with survivor Ben Helfgott after the ceremony’s conclusion that emphasised just how much it meant to the survivors.

Ben, who went on to represent Britain in the Olympics within a few years of his liberation, has been honoured by the Queen for a lifetime of dedication to Holocaust education and recently sat as a member of David Cameron’s Holocaust Commission.

Last weekend, however, left him as buoyant as I’ve ever seen him. “I feel fulfilled,” he told me, expressing delight at the number of young people who turned up. “I was moved to tears [to hear leaders of young movements commit to marking Yom HaShoah].”

Quite a statement for a man with his achievements. Like his fellow organisers, he’s aware that the responsibility will fall on the next generations – and perhaps particularly the next generation of Jews – to continue speaking about the experiences of their grandparents. But he wasn’t just buoyant, he was positively bullish.

We must continue to repeat large-scale commemorations again and again to ensure the horrors are remembered, he went on, and he would work to make this happen for as long as he could.

You wouldn’t doubt him or Yom HaShoah UK; after years of smaller events attended by hundreds in Hyde Park, some questioned whether they could muster even a crowd of 1,000.

Ben would be more than happy for the event to return to Allianz Park next year. But whether it does or not, and whether or not the new national memorial becomes the focus of commemorations in future years, it’s critical that we all come together annually to give Yom HaShoah the focus it deserves.

The lack of a big anniversary in 2016 may make it harder to get quite the same numbers, but if the community can muster the same spirit and unite as it did on this occasion, bringing together thousands should not be impossible.

Yom HaShoah UK and Neil Martin, who chaired the organising committee, deserve huge praise for growing this day of communal remembrance and particularly the seamless organisation of this year’s event.

After this triumph, we must continue to aim high.