The late Holocaust survivor Paul Oppenheimer titled his book ‘From Belsen to Buckingham Palace’, writing ‘it’s quite a journey’. He was right. When survivors of the concentration and death camps of Europe made Britain their home, who would have believed that these remarkable individuals would be honoured by this country for their service.
For decades after the war, the human stories of the Holocaust were missing from public discourse. People knew about the Nazis, they knew about Hitler, they knew that there had been gas chambers. But they didn’t know the human face of those whose lives ended in the gas chambers, ghettos, forests and ravines of Europe. The victims were alien, abstract, a homogenous group of 6 million. And they certainly didn’t know the stories of the survivors.
Today, that’s not the case. This week, a survivor who didn’t speak of his experience for decades after, Manfred Goldberg BEM, shared his testimony with our Prime Minister and HRH The Prince of Wales. His Royal Highness commissioned a portrait of him and seven others, and these portraits are of men and women who, as children and teenagers, endured something beyond human imagination; people who came to the UK speaking no English, with little but the clothes on their backs, often the only member of their family left, and whose images now hang in one of the most important rooms in the world.
This week our nation, guided by its leaders, stood together, and remembered the 6 million Jewish men, women and children murdered by the Nazis – everyone, from our leaders to our schoolchildren have had a chance to mark the day and to remember. The Holocaust has its rightful place in our national consciousness thanks to our beloved and brave survivors.