By Henry Grunwald, Chairman, National Holocaust Centre
My late father was one of the lucky ones.
He arrived in this country from Czechoslovakia in August 1939 with a work permit from Feld’s Kosher restaurant in Whitechapel. It saved his life.
However, all but one or two members of his large family – grandfather, uncles, aunts, cousins I never knew – were murdered in the camps, mere statistics in the Nazi plan to exterminate the Jews of Europe.
I suppose that is why I have always had a deep commitment to ensuring the Shoah is never forgotten, and, equally important, that the lessons of the Holocaust continue to be taught.
The words “never again”, uttered with such force at the end of the Second World War, have, unhappily, not been put into effect. The lessons of the Holocaust have not been learnt. The disgraceful behaviour by some West Ham fans at the Spurs versus West Ham match shows just how much remains to be done.
In 1995, in deep countryside in Nottinghamshire, a remarkable family opened a remarkable place. The Holocaust Centre, Beth Shalom (the House of Peace), was founded by the Smith family, committed Christians, after visits to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem during their church trips to the Holy Land.
They realised the Holocaust is not a Jewish problem but one for anyone brave enough to admit it has consequences for us all. That is why the work of Beth Shalom is so important, and needs to be more widely known and understood within our community.
It remains the first and only centre dedicated to Holocaust remembrance and education in the UK, playing a unique role not only as a memorial and place of testimony but also of learning. It obtained museum status last year, in recognition of the care with which we handle and present the many precious artefacts donated by survivors and their families.
I have recently been privileged to become chairman of the board of trustees, taking over from Dr James Smith, who is now the centre’s president. He and his family remain an important and integral part of the centre’s life, and will continue to do so. We recognise it is our task not only to remember and memorialise but also to educate.
Having said that, our Memorial Garden holds more than 1,000 planted in remembrance of people who were loved and lost in the Holocaust, and named after those who bravely rose up against the Nazis. It also recognises the survivors who have spoken at the centre and have since passed away.
So far as education is concerned, we welcome more than 19,000 schoolchildren at primary and secondary level, every year. They receive age-appropriate experiences, dealing with the historical events of the Holocaust as well as posing questions for the future.
The need for continued development and extension of Holocaust education is substantial. Lack of understanding and knowledge, and the persistence of racist attitudes in society, are just two examples why the centre’s work is so important today. Recognising children learn their values not just at school but also at home, we believe providing opportunities for parents to learn alongside their children can play a vital role in extending Holocaust education among both adults and young people.
To that end, we have recently embarked on an ambitious programme to ensure parents as well as children can benefit from the significant learning Holocaust education brings. As a society, we are clearly not doing the best we can to educate about the causes of the Holocaust and the consequences of anti-Semitism and ideologies based on racial hatred.
Accordingly, alongside our core educational activities, we are working in partnership with a schools and other agencies in some of the country’s most disadvantaged localities to include parents in our programmes. The centre is a wonderful place doing wonderful work.
That is why you, your families and communities should visit us and see for yourselves, and why West Ham and any other offending football fans need to visit and learn just how unacceptable and appalling their chants are – both to the living and the dead.