The unlikely pairing of an 88-year-old woman from Czechoslovakia and a 17-year-old from Pakistan brought an audience to its feet on Thursday.
The Quilliam Foundation’s winter gala, aimed at demonstrating a determination to stamp out antisemitism and Islamophobia, gained an unexpected resonance this year, as it was held only days after the Pittsburgh shooting of 11 Jews in the Tree of Life synagogue.
The central London event, co-hosted by former Apprentice star Saira Khan and the German Jewish actress Laura Pradelska from the TV series, Game of Thrones, featured presentations by Quilliam’s founder and chairman Maajid Nawaz, and from Simone Rodan-Benzaquen, who is the director of AJC (American Jewish Committee) for Europe.
But two deeply personal stories of survival, from Mindu Hornick, who was sent to Auschwitz from Prague when she was only 12, and Ahmad Nawaz, who pretended to be dead after the Taliban slaughtered 150 of his schoolmates and teachers in December 2014 — when he was just 14 — illustrated, as few others could, the importance of fighting racism and hatred wherever possible.
By chance both Mindu and Ahmad have now made their homes in Birmingham and they form a passionate “double act” as global ambassadors for the Anne Frank Trust, touring schools and universities, bravely re-telling their stories, and urging education against hatred.
Ahmad, whose younger brother died in the Taliban massacre, said he had witnessed “unimaginable” sights when the killers came to his school. He survived by pretending for hours that he, too, was among the dead, and was in fact badly injured in the attack. Today, the confident teenager said: “We must speak out for those who can’t speak for themselves — and make a difference. Hatred and intolerance is not other people’s problem. It’s our problem”.