Prince Charles hailed Holocaust survivors and refugees as “living heroes”, praising them for the contributions they made to British society since the Holocaust.
The royal, a patron of Holocaust Memorial Day and World Jewish Relief, was among a host of public figures, faith leaders and politicians to pay their respects in video messages broadcast during this year’s ceremony, live-streamed on Monday and of which Jewish News was a media partner.
The Prince of Wales paid tribute to survivors and refugees, who went on to become “the leaders and builders of your community, active citizens and dedicated contributors to wider British society.”
“They have been and continue to be shining examples to the world of how it is possible to triumph over adversity. Whilst they may consider themselves the lucky ones, when so many did not survive, to us they are simply nothing short of living heroes, who were determined not just to survive but to thrive as they built new lives, new homes and new families here in the United Kingdom,” he said.
Over 60,000 people worldwide tuned in to watch the ceremony on YouTube and Facebook Live, which organisers say is expected to reach 200,000 in the coming days.
The annual day for Holocaust remembrance in the community coincided this year with the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Bergen Belsen by the British Army.
The ceremony featured videos of six Holocaust survivors and refugees lighting a yellow candle, each in memory of those who were murdered in the Shoah.
They were Kindertransport refugee Sir Eric Reich, Theresienstadt survivor Joanna Millan, child refugee Isca Wittenberg, Auschwitz and Lieberstadt slave labour camp survivor Mindu Hornick, Auschwitz survivor Sam Laskier and Eva Clarke, who was born in Mauthausen concentration camp.
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said the “world needs to heed the call of our Holocaust survivors to ensure that the Shoah will never in any shape or form happen again.”
Rabbi Mirvis discussed rising antisemitism in the past year but struck a positive note as he told the commemoration that “within the dark clouds of the coronavirus, we can see a silver lining… A sense of unity, unity in our communities, on our streets, in our towns, in our cities, national unity and global unity, as all of humankind faces covid-19 like one person with one heart.”
Shoah educator Henry Grunwald, vice-president of Yom HaShoah UK, said Kaddish after a performance of El Malei Rachamim by Chazan Jonny Turgel, grandson to the late Gena Turgel, who met her husband upon liberation from Bergen-Belsen and became known as the “Bride of Belsen.”
“We don’t normally say Kaddish without a minyan, but the Kaddish which we say on Yom HaShoah is of enormous importance to survivors and to the families of survivors,” Grunwald told the livestream before reciting Kaddish.
Neil Martin, who chairs Yom HaShoah UK and produced the event, said: “Holocaust survivors and refugees are of course right now isolating in their homes for their safety, and may well have believed that this year the community won’t be able to remember on Yom HaShoah, in what might sadly be for so many of them the last of the significant anniversaries. It was vital therefore, that despite the obstacles we faced, and sadly the large number of coronavirus deaths hitting the Jewish community, that we still remembered… but virtually, and we were truly honoured that The Prince of Wales agreed to lead the tributes to the brave and inspiring survivors and refugees of our community. It may sound strange, but I’m proud we were able to use Yom HaShoah to bring some hope and togetherness to our community (and beyond) during this difficult time.”
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick extended his “good wishes to the Jewish community on this solemn occasion” and warned it had “never been more important to fight against the world’s oldest form of hatred.”
Israeli president Reuven Rivlin said that “while the coronavirus may have prevented us from marching from Auschwitz Birkenau, nothing can prevent us from passing on the memory of the Shoah to the next generation”, in an apparent reference to the postponed March of the Living.
He added: “As we fight the spread of the coronavirus, we must never forget the survivors among us. Not only must we make sure that all the needs are met, but we must also continue to listen to their story if not, in person, then through technology, as we are doing just now.”
Labour leader Keir Starmer stressed the importance of remembrance and added: “In the Shoah we see the worst of humanity but we also see the best in the hope and resilience of those that survived and rebuilt their lives, allowing the Jewish culture to make a significant contribution, not just here in Britain and across the world.”
Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham recounted a conversation he had with Auschwitz survivor Ike Alterman, who shared his testimony “with more than a sprinkling of dry Mancunian wit”.
Alterman, Burnham said, told of “things that are the most horrific anyone can imagine and also the joy of arriving at Windermere at the end of the war, paradise of Windermere, as he described it, and the kindness of the British people who met him there.”
London Mayor Sadiq Khan told of his “great regret that we can’t all come together in person today” but urged viewers watching at home to “remember together the 6 million Jewish men, women and children who were killed in the Holocaust, alongside so many other innocent people.”
Remembrance, he added, “feels more important than ever before as we confront the depressing reality of hatred, antisemitism and nativist populism on the rise, once again around the world.”
The commemoration also featured a virtual children’s choir recital, a speech from Israeli Ambassador Mark Regev, and readings by Countdown presenter Rachel Riley, Judge Robert Rinder and Game of Thrones actress Laura Pradelska.
Watch the virtual children’s choir’s performance here: