Sir Eric Pickles bid fulfilled his final official function as an MP on Monday, addressing nearly 300 people who had gathered in London for the annual reunion dinner celebrating Jewish survivor group ‘The Boys.’

Former cabinet minister Pickles, who will also be relinquishing his role as chair of Conservative Friends of Israel, has been instrumental as the UK Special Envoy for Post-Holocaust Issues, and said he could not think of a more appropriate send-off.

The celebration at Hilton Hotel in Wembley saw a reunion of 20 of the original Jewish orphans rescued from countries like Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary in an operation which saw 732 children – mostly boys – brought to the UK in 1945. Some flew over from Canada, the United States and Israel especially for the occasion.

The group, who stayed close and became each other’s family, later formed the ’45 Aid Society, to raise money for survivors and teach the lessons of the Holocaust. Many of their family members – both second and third generation – are now overseeing the running of the group.

Sir Eric Pickles addressing guests at the dinner

Sir Eric Pickles addressing guests at the dinner

New ‘45 Aid Society chair Angela Cohen, herself the daughter of one of ‘The Boys,’ voiced concern about the recent rise in anti-Semitic attacks across Europe, saying: “As the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, born in the post-war era, I never imagined that I would be witnessing attacks on Jews here and across Europe… Once again, anti-Semitism is alive and kicking.”

Among the evening’s highlights was the emerging story of Toronto-based Elise Stern Gropper, who only recently discovered that her father Leib Strulovic (Leo Stern) was one of ‘The Boys’ when she heard a talk by a local survivor who mentioned her dad.

Gropper then read ‘The Hide and Seek Children’ by Barbara Barnett, which detailed her father’s incredible story, and the two women met for the first time at the reunion.

In his final function as an MP, after 25 years in politics, Pickles told the audience that forgetting the Holocaust was as bad as denying it, and that this had driven his efforts to establish a National Holocaust Memorial and Education Centre near Parliament.