Our Chief Executive Olivia Marks-Woldman reflects on her recognition in this year's Queen birthday honours list
When Leon Blumenkehl came to the UK from Poland in the early 20th century, leaving behind many family members who would later be murdered in the Holocaust, he would not have imagined that one day his granddaughter would be honoured by the Queen with an OBE for services to Holocaust education.
But that is precisely what has happened with Olivia Marks-Woldman, our Chief Executive, who among hundreds of people from across the UK has been recognised in the 2020 Queen's birthday honours.
‘He arrived penniless and friendless yet built a new life and created a community of friends in the UK,’ Olivia says of her grandfather. ‘For his granddaughter to receive this honour is a further symbol of the diversity and richness of British life.’
Olivia has led the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust (HMDT) since 2012, driving our purpose to promote Holocaust Memorial Day as the UK’s national Day to commemorate the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust, all victims of Nazi persecution and those who have been murdered in subsequent genocides.
‘The Holocaust is part of my collective family history. Working closely with Holocaust survivors is a huge privilege. As they draw towards the ends of their lives, it is a huge honour and a responsibility to share their experiences with a wide audience.
‘Over the years I have led HMDT, I have seen Holocaust Memorial Day become embedded in local communities across the country, bringing together people from such a wide variety of backgrounds and inspiring them to learn more,’ said Olivia.
‘This is hugely significant. At a time when the world is increasingly vulnerable to divisions and prejudices, this honour sends a clear message that the annual Holocaust Memorial Day reminder of the fragility of civilisation is necessary for us all.’
Olivia is equally driven by the need to share the experiences of survivors of more recent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur.
I knew very little about recent genocides before I started work at HMDT - along with many people in the UK, I suspect. These are not routinely taught in schools and being part of an initiative that brings these to greater attention is hugely important to me.
As the mother of a daughter with a learning disability, Olivia is particularly keen to shine the spotlight on the Nazi treatment of disabled people. ‘It’s a source of great pride to me that not only does HMDT ensure people are able to learn about this history, but also that we produce resources that mean disabled people themselves can engage meaningfully with Holocaust Memorial Day.’
Olivia has extensive experience in the charity sector, having previously worked for Breast Cancer Care, Epilepsy Scotland, and Scope. ‘I was brought up with a strong volunteering and social action ethic. I saw my parents and grandparents undertake considerable and varied support for neighbours as well as more formal volunteering roles.’
Our chief executive also paid tribute to her team and said the honour has been made possible ‘only because of the amazing HMDT staff team and wise counsel from our trustees, and the support and guidance from Holocaust and genocide survivors themselves.’
HMDT Chair Laura Marks said: 'Olivia is hugely deserving of the recognition of an OBE. She is a shining example of dedication, creativity and diligence and I'm thrilled that she has received this very special honour from the Queen.'
Publication of this year’s Queen’s birthday honours list, which was agreed before the Covid-19 struck, was postponed in June to enable hundreds of medical workers, fundraisers and volunteers to be recognised for their vital role in the pandemic.
Watch our video in which HMDT's Senior Communications Officer, Farayi Mungazi, interviews Olivia Marks-Wolman about being awarded an OBE.