In this personal blog for HMDT, Chief Executive Olivia Marks-Woldman reflects on the significance of ten Holocaust survivors receiving recognition in the 2016 New Year’s Honours List.
‘As long as the Queen is safe in Buckingham Palace, we’re safe in Ealing.’ This was a regular comment from my mum; her own parents having arrived as refugee Jews from Eastern Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This feeling is shared by so many Jewish refugees, harried and persecuted in so many places and finding a home in Britain. The Queen has for many embodied the welcome and opportunities they found. As the Head of State, above the ebb and flow of party political life, she is the constant symbol of the security of a tolerant society.
And how much more so for the survivors of the dehumanising and murderous regime that brought about the Holocaust.
Today Her Majesty has honoured ten Holocaust survivors in her New Year Honours list, including many of whom work closely with the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust. Lily Ebert, Chaim Ferster, Agnes Grunwald-Spier, Jack Kagan, Freddie Knoller, Rudi Oppenheimer, Ivor Perl, Susan Pollack, Renee Salt and Zigi Shipper all thoroughly deserve recognition for their tireless work telling their personal stories in order to raise awareness of the Holocaust.
We know many more survivors who also deserve recognition for the work they do, and remember the millions more who did not survive to tell their life stories.
These honours tell a significant story themselves. For many survivors of the Holocaust, they say this:
You are someone who has been singled out from your school mates or from your work colleagues. You have been isolated, denied a social life and friendships, denied work and income, denied leisure pursuits and cultural activities. You have been taken from your home and moved to a ghetto. You have been denied food, hygiene, warmth and clothes. You have hidden in hole in the ground, you have slaved in a concentration camp, you have been shorn of your hair and your identity, your name has been taken from you. Because you are a Jew, in land occupied by or allied to Nazi-controlled Germany.
In this country, you do not have to hide your identity. You can be a religious Jew, a cultural Jew, an agnostic Jew; you can worship or not, as you please. You can create a family, build a business, participate in public life. Your work to share your experiences so that adults and children of all backgrounds and faiths can learn from your past in ways that inform their present, will not now be ignored, glossed over or minimised. Your work is appreciated and valued.
And Her Majesty the Queen honours you.
The HMDT blog highlights topics relevant to our work in Holocaust and genocide education and commemoration. We hear from a variety of guest contributors who provide a range of personal perspectives on issues relevant to them, including those who have experienced state-sponsored persecution and genocide. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of HMDT.