Every year, Her Majesty The Queen holds garden parties in the grounds of Buckingham Palace. Those attending are invited in recognition of their community or public service. In 2017, thirteen survivors of the Holocaust and genocide were invited to attend three garden parties in May and June. Laura Marks OBE, Chair of HMDT attended one garden party with survivors of the Holocaust. In this blog, she shares her thoughts on the significance of the occasion for survivors.
This May, I was honoured to represent the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and support survivors at a Royal garden party. I attended with Mala Tribich MBE, Eva Behar and Freda Wineman – three remarkable women, each with their own story of how they survived the Holocaust.
Mala is from Poland, where she survived life in a ghetto and slave labour, before being send to Ravensbrück and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps. Mala and her brother Ben Helfgott, Honorary President of HMDT, were the only survivors of her family.
Eva was taken from her home in Romania to Sighet Ghetto before being transported to Auschwitz and, finally, Bergen-Belsen where she contracted typhus. It was here that, like Mala, Eva was eventually liberated by British troops.
Freda Wineman was sent with her family to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where she was separated from her mother who was immediately sent to the gas chambers. Freda was forced to work in the Kanada Kommando, sorting the belongings of murdered prisoners. She was later sent to Theresienstadt.
All three of these women survived, but suffered unimaginable trauma and lost most of their families and friends. They now volunteer their time to share their stories with many thousands of people in the UK.
For those who have faced prejudice and persecution, often at the hands of their own government and neighbours, the comfort of finding a home which accepts and welcomes them is immeasurable. In attending a Royal garden party, they are not only accepted, but they are celebrated. It is recognition by the highest levels of UK society not only of their suffering, but also their achievements and their tireless work to ensure that others don’t experience the same fate as their lost family members.
To see those who have suffered such hatred in their lives being celebrated and recognised by the Royal family is wonderful and a reflection of the values we hold so dear here in Britain.
Laura Kaye, Eva Behar’s daughter said: ‘There are simply no words for how my mother felt.’ At one point, Eva and Freda sat together taking in the palace grounds. Laura said ‘the two of them kept holding hands and looking at each other as though they simply could not believe they were there, they were alive and they were together. Quite something’.
Nathan Helfgott, a member of the HMDT Legacy Consultative Group and son of HMDT Honourary Chair Ben Helfgott, also attended to support survivors, including his aunt, Mala. He said:
‘It was a privilege and an honour to accompany the Survivors to such a prestigious event. All the guests at the party were invited because of the contribution made to society and the survivors rightly take their place. They have embraced life in Great Britain whilst respecting and keeping the memory of their past alive by giving their time to share their experiences to inform and educate. It was a truly memorable afternoon.’
Natasha Isaac, who also sits on the HMDT Legacy Group and whose grandparents were refugees from Nazi persecution, said:
‘It was an enormous honour for me to go to the garden party with such an impressive group of people and I only wish that my family members who perished could see how we are all flourishing now. I hope they’d be really proud that we all had such a marvellous opportunity in a country which has welcomed and cherished us’.
Whilst not at the party I attended personally, survivors from the genocides in Bosnia and Rwanda were also guests this year at The Queen’s garden parties and all reported feeling similarly honoured to be invited to such a special event.
Most recently, I am also delighted that survivors of the Holocaust Iby Knill and Sabina Miller were recently named in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List 2017 and awarded British Empire Medals.
As Chair of HMDT, I am proud to be part of an organisation which commemorates the Holocaust and subsequent genocides, which I believe is a duty for all of us, regardless of race, religion or background. It is a great honour to work with brave survivors who help us to keep the memories alive of those who did not survive and teach us that we must learn from the past if we are to have a safer future.
Above: A group of survivors of the Holocaust and the genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia with their family members and HMDT staff outside Buckingham Palace.