Here’s looking at you, Sir Ben! Gallery gifted statue of survivor

Here’s looking at you, Sir Ben! Gallery gifted statue of survivor

89-year-old former Olympian honoured with bronze artwork by royal sculptor Frances Segelman

Justin Cohen is the News Editor at the Jewish News

Sir Ben Helfgott with the sculpture of him
Sir Ben Helfgott with the sculpture of him

A bronze statue of Holocaust survivor and Olympian Sir Ben Helfgott was dedicated in its new permanent home at the National Portrait Gallery last week.

The artwork by royal sculptor Frances Segelman was gifted to the prestigious gallery by Yad Vashem UK Foundation after the 89-year-old sat for her in a public session last year.

The bust will form part of the institution’s Inspiring People project and be housed in a new section focusing on the 20th century to today which will be part of a £35m refurbishment, chief curator Alison Smith told a celebratory reception attended by Sir Ben and his wife Arza along with their sons and grandchildren. She said the sculpture “embodies his spirit. It’s a wonderful addition to the gallery as it tells the story of survival against the odds and achievement. The trustees are incredibly grateful for this gift”.

Sir Ben, who captained the British weightlifting team at the Olympics a decade after being liberated from the camps, established the 45 Aid Society to support fellow survivors after arriving in the UK and has been at the forefront of Shoah education ever since.

Sir Ben expressed hope the bust would be “made use of to tell my story and as a memorial to those who were murdered in the Holocaust”.

Expressing his pride, Sir Ben’s son Maurice said: “Surrounded by portraits of Mandela, Thatcher and Rolling Stones, it’s extraordinarily moving Dad is included as a community leader, sportsman and someone we all love.”

Simon Bentley, chair of the Yad Vashem Foundation, dedicated considerable time along with his daughter Tanya, an assistant curator at the Portrait Gallery, to generating interest from the institution.

“Even when they came to visit it in my office it was on the basis it was unlikely they would accept it as a gift,” he said. But Bentley said he was “absolutely thrilled” the bust has found such a prestigious home, describing it as a “big deal. Ben is going to be 90 in November so to be able to dedicate with his whole family is fantastic”.

Segelman, who counts Her Majesty The Queen among her subjects, said: “I’m very proud and moved. Sir Ben’s such an amazing and strong man.” In January, she will sculpt fellow survivor Freddie Knoller in another live event.

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