Schoolchildren across the world have been urged to use the words of a Holocaust survivor as a “weapon” against hate in a live webcast.
TV judge Rob Rinder introduced survivor Harry Spiro as one of a “dwindling number” of people who are still around to bear first-hand witness to the atrocities in the Second World War.
Mr Spiro told children that hate “will not solve anything” as he shared how he survived Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany after being rounded up from Piotrkow in Poland as a young boy.
Judge Rinder urged an estimated 50,000 students watching the webcast, organised by the Holocaust Educational Trust, to use Mr Spiro’s story as a “weapon” against prejudice.
He told history students gathered at Stoke Newington school, in north London: “More than ever today as we all know, you will listen, you will see, you will hear and experience some of the appalling hate on Twitter.
“Some of you in your own lives may even experience forms of prejudice in a variety of different guises, be it sexism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism – whatever it is.
“This is our chance collectively to listen to Harry’s words and to become empowered.
“What Harry’s going to be giving us today are facts, a story that we can use as weapons, as an important example against hate.”
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Hear Harry Spiro’s story. Be a witness of truth. Have the courage to stand up to hate. https://t.co/u2u9gk7iml
— Robert Rinder (@RobbieRinder) January 24, 2019
Mr Spiro came to the UK in 1945 following the Government’s decision to allow 1,000 Holocaust survivors to settle in the country.
Judge Rinder’s grandfather, Morris Malinicky, was part of the same group, known as ‘The Boys’ and was a friend of Mr Spiro’s.
Asked why he continues to share his testimony, Mr Spiro said: “The feedback I get from students and after all what I went through, yes I lost everything… students don’t understand when I say to them ‘no, I do not hate the Germans’.
“I don’t hate any nations to the extent to kill them. Yes, it was a terrible thing what they did to me personally, but by hating, no, you will not solve anything.
“Because over centuries people were killing each other, hating each other and look where we finished up.
“But now what I see about the young generation – they take notice, they do learn….maybe hopefully, eventually, we will succeed and overcome this terrible hatred.”
He added: “What motivates me is by seeing what is happening now.
“Communities, nations are still carrying on now in a different form but it equals the same thing, they are hating each other, killing each other, and I think ‘wait a minute what are you doing?’.”
Students from around 1,300 schools and organisations across the globe – including in Portugal, Italy, Holland, the US and Malaysia – tuned in to hear Mr Spiro.
After the webcast, he was thanked by a sobbing pupil who said she was determined to spread his message.
His voice breaking, Judge Rinder said he always felt “not only moved, but grateful” each time he spoke with Mr Spiro.
Mr Spiro, 89, told those present how there was a call for everyone who was employed at a glass factory where he had been working to gather outside a synagogue.
The young boy did not want to leave his mother and family in the ghetto, recalling that this was his “lowest” point during the war.
He said: “I said ‘no I’m not going’. We argued a lot.
“She kept saying to me, which didn’t make sense to me, ‘Hopefully one of us should be alive’.
“I thought ‘what are you talking about?’ I didn’t understand what she said.
He added: “That was the last words of my mother, saying that hopefully one of us should be alive.”
“My mother pushed me out of the house, I felt very bad about it.”
Mr Spiro’s entire family were murdered.
While life in Israel has returned to normal and hopes are high that Britain is set for a summer without restrictions thanks to vaccines, for billions around the world there is no such imminent light at the end of the tunnel. In the majority of countries around the globe, particularly the poorest, the vaccine rollout has barely kicked off.
That's why Jewish News, the leading source of news and opinion for the entire UK community, is throwing its full weight behind UNICEF’s VaccinAid campaign by using this platform usually reserved for encouraging donations towards our own journalism to instead urge our readers around the globe to perform the greatest mitzvah: saving a life.
We have never before done this for any charity fundraiser but it's hard to recall a campaign that affects so many people, and indeed an entire planet aching for a return to normality. Just like the Chief Rabbi and Rachel Riley, we hope to boost the mission to deliver two billion vaccines, 165 million treatments and 900 million test kits around the world by the end of this year.
Please donate as much as you can, in the spirit of the Talmudic sages: “to save one life is to save the world entire”