OPINION – Sir Ben Helfgott: Take up the baton and hold it tight

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OPINION – Sir Ben Helfgott: Take up the baton and hold it tight

With the focus of Shoah education on second and third generations, Sir Ben thanks those who have listened to his testimony - and who will be telling his story for years to come

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

On Holocaust Memorial Day, I am more preoccupied than usual with thoughts and reflections of the events of 75 years ago, the horrors of the final months of the war, my liberation from Theresienstadt in May 1945 and the good fortune of my subsequent arrival in Britain a few months later.

Now I’m 90, my memory is not what it was, but the recollection of those times and the precious memories of my parents, sister, cousins, friends and others who did not survive still remain fully in my mind. I have devoted a great deal of my time and energy to ensure they are not forgotten, and the history of their lives and those who came before them will be remembered.

I was also determined that future generations would be aware of  how a shared hatred can result in the most abominable persecution. I did this so we would be on our guard against it at all times in the hope that we would build a more tolerant society and a buffer against hate.

After my experiences during the war, I felt compelled to do this, but I should say that throughout all this time, I did not let it totally dominate my life and I still enjoyed a most wonderful time with my family and many friends, building a business and enjoying sports, books and so much else.

People often ask me whether I am worried about whether the lessons of the Holocaust will be taught when, as is inevitable, there are no more living survivors.

Of course I am justifiably concerned that the Holocaust will hereafter be given the importance it deserves, the appropriate emphasis afforded to it and with the right messages taken from it.

At the same time, I pay tribute to so many people of different ages throughout this great country of ours, who have, over the past 40 or so years, given increasing respect to the survivors and listened to us.

More than that, so many of you have done so much in sustaining the memory of those who perished and learning about the Holocaust.

By doing so, you have had a profoundly beneficial influence by encouraging a more tolerant approach to so many important issues for society. This gives me great optimism and I owe you an enormous debt of gratitude.

Although my determination and commitment to keeping the flame alive remains undimmed, I can no longer do what I once did. I say to those who have already taken up the baton, hold it tight and keep going.

And to those who have not done so up to now, try to play a part in any way you can, so that when the time comes, future generations are not ignorant of what happened.

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