Holocaust survivor and British weightlifting hero Sir Ben Helfgott has been honoured with a Pride of Britain award for five decades of tireless work in passing on the lessons of the Nazi era and fighting for those who lived through the horrors.
Poland-born Sir Ben – whose parents and younger sister were killed in the Shoah – survived Buchenwald and was liberated from Theresienstadt before being brought to the UK aged just 15.
Remarkably, just eleven years later, Sir Ben – who turns 91 next month – captained the British weightlifting team at the 1956 Olympics, a feat he repeated four years later.
He was recognised alongside Marcus Rashford and other lesser known heroes at the Daily Mirror’s Pride of Britain Awards, whose format has been revamped this year amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Instead of the usual glittering dinner in central London, a host of celebrities have been surprising winners around the country over the last few weeks.
Sir Ben – who has held positions in almost every major Holocaust remembrance and education organisation – was seen seen by a TV audience of millions on Sunday receiving the famous trophy from Stephen Fry, surrounded by his wife Arza, three sons and five of his grandchildren.
Read more here, and watch the clip here:
“You shouldn’t have to be Jewish or to have a relatives who perished in the Holocaust yourself to be stunned by characters like Ben Helfgott, though of course it does add an extra element of admiration and appreciation,” said Fry, after making the presentation at the Holocaust memorial in Hyde Park earlier this month.
“His actions speak for all humanity however. His quiet determination to ensure that the unspeakable wickedness and evil of what happened has been inspirational. Against indifference, denial and doubt he has raised a literal and figurative memorial wall that honours the victims and helps push back against the possibility that such horrors might be allowed to happen again.”
It was so wonderful to see his large family standing there beaming with pride and of course I couldn’t help but think “if he hadn’t survived … none of them would be there.”
He would say he had survived because he was lucky, but it was also because he was strong. Literally strong – heavens, the man went on to become an Olympic weightlifter! It’s wonderful thing that Pride of Britain has recognised him.”
He added: “In this time of fear, distress, doubt and anxiety the quiet, unassuming strength of a man like Sir Ben Helfgott reminds us that the human spirit can – like grass through concrete – win through.”
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