When my father died a year ago, among the things that passed with him was the direct connection to his parents, who died at Auschwitz, and three brothers who were also the victims of fascism.
For much of my life growing up on the south coast the tragedy of the Shoah was unmentionable. It was the subject deemed by my Anglo-Jewish mother as too sensitive and painful to discuss. When my father’s survivor siblings came to visit, snippets of the personal tragedy of the family would emerge. But the dialogue among siblings tended to be in native Hungarian. The war stories we heard around the Friday night or Sunday lunch table were much more likely to be tales of bombings in Kemp Town as the Luftwaffe emptied ordinance as it headed back across the Channel.
There was, however, one annual remembrance of what had befallen the family. Every spring my father would be called to the law at Hove Hebrew Congregation.
It would be an emotional moment as the chazzan, the late Kalman Fausner (z’’l), would recite the memorial prayer for each missing member of the family. Tears would flow.
The date of the yahrzeit had been established from the train timetables as the Jews of Hungary, aided by the country’s Arrow Cross thugs, were shipped out in 1944. It was a curse and blessing, because the Jews under Hungarian control were among the last to be transported, my father’s two younger sisters, a niece who lived with the family and a younger brother survived the camps.
My grandfather Sandor (after who I am named), with a distinctive red beard, and grandmother Fanya, were shipped directly to the Auschwitz gas chambers and ovens. The fates of my father’s three brothers Ephraim, Daniel and Yitzhak are shrouded in mystery, but has been customary to mark their yahrzeit on the same day as the parents.
Ephraim and Daniel were proprietors of a coffee shop in nearby Berehovo where they lived. Early in the 1940s they were taken away from their homes and families by Hungarian militias to work in the forests.
At first there was correspondence and food and winter clothing parcels were sent. Then silence. It was only at the seder table just a few weeks ago that my Aunt Sussie, a survivor, raised a question I never really thought about: what happened to their wives and children?
All of this has come flooding back because I and my brother Daniel have received yahrzeit notices from our synagogues. My father had been particular about this. He didn’t want the memory of his parents and lost brothers to be buried with him after his 103 years.
These events are too important to be forgotten. Recently, for Holocaust Memorial Day remembrances in Richmond, my son Gabriel, a professional filmmaker and editor, made a video of a survivor member of our community, Sam Freiman, one of the ‘Boys.’ So moved were civic leaders by his story they have sponsored a longer version to be shown as part of the curriculum in Richmond schools.
One could not but help contrast the ‘can do’ attitude of our Richmond Council with the shameful foot-dragging by Westminster Council over the Holocaust Memorial Learning Centre to be built at Victoria Palace Gardens. It is a project with the full-blooded support of all living prime ministers and has just been granted a further £25m by the government for protection of the gardens around the new site.
A Unesco group is among others to have lodged objections. Remembrance is too important for such obstruction.
There can be no excuse for further delays for permission first sought in 2016.