Holocaust survivors have said their MBEs in the New Year’s Honours list will drive them to keep on educating young people to “appreciate each other’s faiths and beliefs”, and that it is possible to create success after hardship.
Mindu Hornick, 90, and John Paul Hajdu, 82, have both been honoured for their work in Holocaust education and commemoration.
Birmingham-based Ms Hornick, who works with the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and the Anne Frank Trust, described the award as “an absolute surprise” while Mr Hajdu, of Muswell Hill, north London, said it had been “most unexpected”.
Gertrude Silman, 90, described her MBE for Holocaust education as a “very proud moment”. She is the honorary life president of the Holocaust Survivors’ Friendship Association (HSFA) – a Leeds-based group which shares their experiences of the Holocaust with schools and various community groups.
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Czechoslovakia-born Ms Hornick, who has been educating people about the Holocaust for around 20 years, said: “I’m 90 now and it is always an effort to do (Holocaust Memorial Days) but with everything that is going on in the world today – with Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and other unacceptable things that are happening – I think it is important to educate young people.”
She added: “In my opinion, it is very important that we don’t just mourn our losses and our tragic events, but we should also mourn others going on now in the 21st century.
“There has been a terrible rise of all kinds of atrocities – it is very important to educate young people to love each other and to appreciate each other’s faith and beliefs.”
As part of his work with Holocaust Educational Trust, Mr Hajdu, who was born in Budapest, Hungary, gives talks to schoolchildren where he explains the persecution he suffered under Nazi and Soviet regimes in 1940s-1950s.
Mr Hajdu tells the youngsters he is standing there to show “it is possible with all the hardship and all the fighting in your life, to survive and create a happy life in this country”.
He said: “The award simply urges me on to try to talk to as many people as possible and be an ambassador on behalf of survivors who might not be able to talk or might not want to talk about their experiences.”
During Nazi-occupied Hungary, his mother Livia was taken into a concentration camp, his father Gyorgy was sent to a forced labour camp and he was taken into a ghetto. Soviet troops later surrounded Budapest and freed the ghetto an hour before it was going to be blown up.
Mr Hajdu said his mother had “miraculously survived (the concentration camp), but she was beaten, parts of her body was broken and all kinds of nasty things had happened to her”. His parents later divorced.
He and his mother managed to escape from the Soviet occupation.
Since arriving in England in 1957, Mr Hajdu has worked in several grassroots roles helping his local community, who welcomed him as refugee. He has been a magistrate, worked on the independent police advisory board and leads the Muswell Hill and Fortis Green Association.
Mrs Silman still gives lectures on the Holocaust to keen listeners despite suffering a stroke on Christmas Day 2015 which impaired her mobility and sight.
She was forced to leave her home and her parents in Bratislava in March 1939 to travel to England.
Initially she failed to settle and found herself staying in various homes in Newcastle and London, before moving through various families and schools, living in Cornwall, Devon and Hertfordshire.
Mrs Silman is now a grandmother of five children and a two-time great grandmother, but, like many others, her family history has been marked by the Holocaust.
She discovered soon after the war that her father, Adolf Feldmann, was among the first groups to be taken to Auschwitz. She has never been able to definitively find out what happened to her mother, Elsa, but believes she too may have eventually been taken to Auschwitz.
Of the HFSA, she said: “There are many (survivors) who have struggled to integrate into society, so the idea is that it is a friendship group that meets and shares their experiences.
“When I was a child settling in England, someone told me ‘society has given you so much, and you have to repay that’. This is one of the ways I have tried to do that.”
Holocaust Memorial Day Trust chief executive Olivia Marks-Woldman said: “Having experienced unthinkable trauma and loss at the hands of the Nazis, these remarkable individuals now dedicate so much of their time to sharing their testimony.
“Their efforts to share their experiences have an immeasurable impact, both honouring their loved ones who were murdered by the Nazis, and teaching about the dangers of prejudice, intolerance and hatred.
“This is a fitting time for the announcement, almost 75 years after the liberation of the most notorious Nazi death camp, Auschwitz, and as survivors are becoming fewer and less able to share their testimony.
“It is right that we recognise the impact that they have had on Holocaust education in the UK.”