Tributes have been paid to Holocaust survivor Alec Ward, described as “an unsung hero”, who has passed away aged 91.
Born in Lublin, Poland, in 1927, Alec survived two ghettos, three slave labour camps and two concentration camps before making his way to Britain after the Shoah.
Aged 18, Alec flew to England in October 1945 as one of 732 child survivors of the Shoah, as part of a group known affectionately as The Boys.
The only survivor from his family, Alec, who was born Abraham Warszaw, was first prisoner at Skarzysko Kamienna slave Labour camp, where he endured two years of brutal treatment, before being held at Chestochowa, Buchenwald, Flossberg and eventually Mauthausen, where he was liberated on 5th May 1945 by American forces.
After settling in England, Alec became a tailor and then a quality controller for Windsmoor.
He met his future wife Hettie Cohen in 1952 and married in 1953. They had two children, Lyla and Mark, who died in 1981, aged 23 of melanoma.
His grandson Liron is named after Alec’s younger brother Laib, who was shot by the Nazis during the war, and welcomed his son-in-law Barend and his children into the family.
Karen Pollock, chief Executive of the Holocaust Education Trust, said: “Alec Ward was a wonderful man. He dedicated his life to ensuring the world remembered what happened during the Holocaust, reliving his most painful memories to ensure that the horrors of the past would not be forgotten.
“He had a warmth and kindness that shone through, even when talking about the darkest of times. We are all deeply saddened to hear the news of his passing and our thoughts and prayers are with his family.
“It is our mission to ensure that Alec’s story and legacy lives on for generations to come.”
Alec’s grandson Liron Velleman, called his grandpa his “hero and my inspiration”, adding that “his determination to teach a generation ‘I implore you not to hate’, even after all his suffering and pain, together with a devotion to his wife Hettie and enormous love and care for the rest of the family, is a legacy that we all look up to and strive to live by.
“The family are overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and wishes which is a testament to the thousands of people, across all ages and faiths that he touched with his story and message which we encourage everyone to read to keep his memory alive.”
Maurice Helfgott, a spokesperson for the 45 Aid Society and son of survivor Ben Helfgott, also one of the remaining members of “The Boys”, paid tribute to “an extraordinarily wonderful man”.
Helfgott said: “He was one of the boys who came to England in 1945. One of the 732, he was always a man of great serenity, humility and warmth. He was very popular and much loved by The Boys, by the second and third generations, and was a wonderful man who we will miss very much and whose life we celebrate.”
Family friend David Levenson called Alec “an unsung hero” who in later years spoke about his experiences with “humility and grace”.
Levenson said: “It wasn’t until 50 years after being liberated that Alec wrote down his personal story.
“For more than 20 years he travelled all over the country with his wife Hettie talking at schools, universities and with groups of adults.
“He regularly spoke on Holocaust Memorial Day and at events organised by the Holocaust Educational Trust.
“Many thousands of people heard Alec’s testimony first-hand. He talked to prison inmates and I have read letters from those who subsequently wrote to Alec to tell them he had transformed their lives.
“Alec told his story with humility and grace. He was a master raconteur, who always had a twinkle in his eye. While he could not forget what his tormentors did to him more than 70 years ago, he could never bring himself to hate those who brutalised him and murdered his family.
“The world will be a poorer place without Alec, but his humanity lives on.”