Chris Tarrant: ‘We must never stop telling the story of the Holocaust’

Chris Tarrant: ‘We must never stop telling the story of the Holocaust’

Former host of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire visited Jewish Care's Holocaust Survivors Centre, prompted by broadcast of his Channel 5 programme, Railways of The Holocaust

Francine Wolfisz is the Features Editor for Jewish News.

Chris Tarrant with survivors Rene Salt and Lily Ebert
Chris Tarrant with survivors Rene Salt and Lily Ebert

Chris Tarrant has called on society to “never stop telling what nearly happened to the Jewish race,” during an emotional visit with Holocaust survivors, on Wednesday afternoon.

The 72-year-old broadcaster was invited to speak at Jewish Care’s Holocaust Survivors’ Centre in Hendon about the making of his critically-acclaimed Channel 5 programme, Railways of The Holocaust, which aired in October.

In an interview with Jewish News, Tarrant explained that he had been filming his Extreme Railways series in Estonia when his interest was piqued by a cattle truck with a plaque – and the answer resulted in an “absorbing” 90-minute special focused solely on how Hitler used the railways to perpetrate the Holocaust.

The former host of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire said: “I asked what this plaque was and was told it was one of the trucks Stalin used to transport his political prisoners, Jews and gypsies, to the Stalags in the extreme north of Siberia. He took about 300,000 people up there.

“We went inside this truck and I said, ‘My God, can you imagine travelling five miles in this, let alone probably 10,000 miles, the dead being thrown out the doors as they are travelling, the toilet just a bucket in the corner.’ That’s when we started looking at the whole thing and I said we really ought to look at the railways in the Holocaust.

“We interviewed survivors and they were just the most extraordinary, wonderful people, because you know what they had been through.”

Tarrant was particularly touched by the story of Arek Hersch, who agreed to travel to Auschwitz with him for the programme.

“His parents were murdered when he was eight and out of a family of 18, only two survived. All the others were murdered. He was in a ghetto where he saw death every day, before being sent to work on a railway. Can you imagine a little 11-year-old boy whose job was to put people who were murdered by Nazis into a wheelbarrow and take them to a place of burial?

“He ended up in Auschwitz and had no compunction about how appalling the SS were and the depths of their cruelty.”

Recalling their visit to the Nazi death camp, Tarrant said that Hersch declined to go into the gas chamber, leaving him to enter by himself with a cameraman.

“We were both absolutely shocked. Emotionally, I couldn’t speak to anyone afterwards. Although you know the stories, you just can’t believe the evil,” he said.

Following the broadcast of the programme, Tarrant said he received an “amazing” response in letters and emails and feels compelled to educate others about the Holocaust.

He added: “We must never stop telling this story. We must always tell what happened to our children, our grandchildren and the next generation and must never stop teaching it in schools. We can’t hide away what nearly happened to the Jewish race and how amazing they were to survive.”

Tarrant’s career spans more than five decades, but when asked what his greatest achievement has been, there was little hesitation.

He answered: “I think this programme was the most harrowing thing I’ve ever done, but also, unquestionably, the thing I’m proudest of.”

read more: