On a night dedicated to heroes, those who survived the Holocaust could not be forgotten.
But the Night of Heroes’ Special Recognition Award went not to a survivor, but to someone who had made it her business to keep the voices of survivors alive — the broadcaster Natasha Kaplinsky, who was honoured for her work in interviewing 112 Holocaust survivors and liberators, so that their testimonies could be preserved.
Kaplinsky was awarded an OBE for her services to Holocaust commemoration, but her story began over a decade ago with the rediscovery of the fate of her own great-grandparents, Raphael and Melka, in the Belarussian town of Slonim, where 2,524 Jews were massacred.
She learned of her family’s involvement during the making of the BBC TV programme, Who Do You Think You Are? Her response was to throw herself into Holocaust education, working with David Cameron’s government-backed Holocaust Commission and strongly supporting the endeavour of launching a Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre next to Parliament.
Kaplinsky’s award, sponsored by Barbara and Mick Davis, was presented by two of the survivors to whom she has become close since the beginning of the testimony project — Peter Lantos and Hedi Frankl.
And, paying tribute on film to her work, former Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls said: “Natasha Kaplinsky manages to establish a deep personal bond with everyone she interviews. She really cares, not just because of her own history, but because she is so sensitive to their concerns, not just their suffering but also their bravery”.
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For Peter Lantos, the interview made him feel “that I was talking to a friend whom I have known for a long time — but in fact I hadn’t”.
The testimonies include evidence of a wide range of Nazi persecution, from camp survivors, refugees, and children who came on the Kindertransport to Britain on the eve of the outbreak of war. British soldiers who helped liberate Belsen were also interviewed. All the interviews will find a permanent home in the new Learning Centre next to the National Holocaust Memorial.
Responding to her award, Kaplinsky said she was “truly honoured and humbled” to receive it. She had been told by Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis that what she was doing was “a sacred task” and she said she genuinely felt this to be the case, describing it as her “highest privilege and very great honour to meet the survivors and their families.”