Mayor of London Sadiq Khan addressed the UK’s main Yom HaShoah commemoration on Sunday.
Following his visit last year, on his first day in office as mayor, he joined 180 survivors at the largest remembrance event in the country at the Allianz Stadium in Hendon.
Also attending were Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, Israeli Ambassador Mark Regev, Game of Thrones Actress Laura Pradelska and Judge Rinder.
This year’s theme was Women’s Resistance.
Khan told the audience: “”I am honoured to be invited to join you once again. I’ve had the privilege to meet a number of Holocaust survivors and refugees. We have a responsibility to teach our children what happened and to call out injustice and discrimination wherever we see it.” He later tweeted: “It was an honour to join London’s Jewish community to mark Yom HaShoah and to reflect on the lives lost in the Holocaust.”
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis addressed those in attendance alongside 150 primary school children. He said: “There is hope because we stand together. There is hope for so long as our children will declare – never again.”
In a series of well-rehearsed set-pieces deftly overseen by Henry Grunwald, OBE QC, young and old explored this year’s theme of “women’s resistance”, as the community solemnly pledged never to forget the Holocaust and to continue recalling the murdered generation of Jews.
The tone was set by the “grand-daddy” of British survivors, Ben Helfgott, now 87, who arrived in Britain after the war with a group of young people who became known as The Boys. Ben and his sister, Mala Tribich, are the only survivors from their extended family, but after speaking about the resistance of the Warsaw Ghetto fighters, Ben Helfgott told the audience: “We are passing the baton of remembrance to you”.
Young members of the community’s youth movements — BBYO, UJS, Tribe, B’nei Akiva, FZY and RSY — pledged to honour Ben’s plea.
Not only Laura Pradelska’s family were victims of Nazi brutality. In a surprisingly personal address, the Israeli ambassador to the UK, Mark Regev, spoke about his late father, Martin, who had been born in Magdeburg, Germany, in 1931, and lived in “terrible danger” thereafter. “There is a picture of my father and his Jewish classmates on a school outing in 1938,” said the ambassador. Out of the 30 children in the picture, only four had survived. “One was my father, and one was my uncle”.
The ambassador urged a willing audience to pay tribute to those who had survived, asking the survivors and refugees to remain seated while those around them stood in thunderous applause.
There was more applause for the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who had made Yom Hashoah his first public engagement in 2016, days after winning the mayoral election. He said he was “honoured” to be attending again, and spoke of the Holocaust as “a scar on the history of humanity which we continue to struggle to comprehend”. The mayor said it was everyone’s responsibility to teach children about “unjust persecution and discrimination, wherever we see it, and to speak about the stories of human resistance and heroism.”
Surrounded by children from the Jewish Primary Schools Choirs, the Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, gave a fitting conclusion to the ceremony. The word “tikva”, he explained, could mean both “rope” and “hope” in Hebrew. The hope was realised in the state of Israel and the rope which linked us to other communities, meaning Jews were no longer alone.
With emotional musical contributions from the children, Shabbaton, London Cantorial Singers and members of the Jewish Male Voice Choir, conducted by Stephen Levey, the 2017 Yom Hashoah event concluded.
A sombre audience streamed out into the late afternoon sunshine, with new understanding of the challenges faced by their parents and grandparents — and a determination to see that they were never forgotten.