There isn’t a time I don’t remember not knowing about the Holocaust, whether through hearing about my great-aunt Ruth’s family in Bradford taking in Kindertransport children, or my great-uncle Heinz’s escape from the Nazis in Czechoslovakia, or discussing it at Habonim or cheder.
Throughout my education, it’s something I was determined to learn more about. I studied history at GCSE and A-level and went on to complete a history degree – with my dissertation focusing on the Holocaust and what the Allies did or didn’t do to help the Jews. I followed all this when I was 19 and visited the Warsaw Ghetto and Auschwitz.
Like everyone who has been there, I will never forget what I saw – the enormity of this operation, with one simple goal; killing Jews and other minorities.
But it wasn’t actually until 2015 that I sat down and interviewed a Holocaust survivor, when I filmed Renee Salt for Sky News to mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
Like all survivors, her story was one of huge loss, of brutality, of pure evil
being visited upon her and her family – and, ultimately, one of survival against unimaginable odds. Meeting her was profoundly moving.
Sitting together in her living room listening intently as she recounted the awfulness inflicted upon her, I could see her revisiting the scenes in her mind’s eye.
Renee, like many survivors, graciously gives of herself and her time telling her story again and again – to schoolchildren and adults – lest we forget. Lest we forget – a saying reiterated over the decades but now more pertinent than ever.
The Guardian reported this week that a new generation of Holocaust deniers is emerging. It said a new internet-based generation is embracing denial, having been drawn to it out of anti-Semitism or a belief in conspiracy theories.
Hearing Renee’s and other survivors’ first-hand accounts is a privilege and an honour, and soon one that will no longer be afforded us. As a student of history, I learnt early on that first-hand accounts – testimony – is vital as a primary source.
It’s something I desperately want my children to hear so they, too, can pass it on to their children and grandchildren. So they, too, can say in 60 years’ time – which by then will be 130 years after the liberation of Auschwitz – that they heard first-hand of the horrors inflicted upon millions of Jews. They, too, will be able to face down deniers of the future with the facts they heard.
I asked Renee last week if she could speak to my oldest child but, quite rightly, she said he is too young at the age of eight to hear the graphic details.
It struck me that she was around the same age when the Nazis invaded her home town. My son is too young to hear it – yet so many hundreds of thousands of children lived and died through it. I pray he and my other children will have the opportunity, at the right time, to hear Renee’s testimony – and some day to pass it on. Lest we forget.
υ To read Samantha’s interview with Renee visit her blog: samanthasimmonds.com/latest-on-the-blog/