We pledge to carry the survivors torch

In 1942, 19-year-old David Graber wrote a letter to us, the future citizens of the world, in the last days of his life.

He was part of the Oneg Shabbat, an underground movement in the Warsaw ghetto, which worked to document and preserve the life of its inhabitants.

He knew he would not survive and made this plea: “I would love to live to see the moment in which the great treasure will be dug up and shriek to the world proclaiming the truth. So the world may know all. So the ones who did not live through it may be glad, and we may feel like veterans with medals on our chest.”

“We would be the fathers, the teachers and educators of the future… But no, we shall certainly never live to see it, and therefore do I write my last will. May the treasure fall into good hands, may it last into better times, may it alarm and alert the world to what happened and was played out in the 20th century… We may now die in peace. We fulfilled our mission. May history attest for us.”

As we mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War and the liberation of the camps, David’s words are more pertinent than ever.

It is down to us to ensure the world knows, and that history attests for, the Shoah victims. It is for this reason we were delighted to partner with Jewish News and Holocaust survivors to guest edit this edition of the paper.

Handing over editorship is no doubt a daunting prospect for any newspaper, but the fact that Jewish News has entrusted this edition in the hands of Holocaust survivors shows just how valued their voices are.

Going to Gena Turgel’s home and having time to chat is always a pleasure (as is sampling her famous apple strudel), but in recent weeks, it has taken on a new dynamic.

Gena has been acting as host for Jewish News’ guest editing board of Holocaust survivors and refugees.

Ben Helfgott, Harry Bibring and Hannah Lewis have come together around her table and, while the strudel is still a big part of proceedings, these meetings, full of passion and energy, have been incredible.

Ben, Gena, Harry and Hannah are just a small example of the survivors across the country who every day give up their time to ensure people know their stories.

They regularly travel the length and breadth of the UK as part of the Trust’s Outreach Programme, ensuring that close to 100,000 young people from all backgrounds have the chance to hear the first-hand testimony of a Holocaust survivor every year.

They relive their most painful memories, often several times a week, to ensure their story, and the story of the six million who do not have a voice, is told.

The sad reality is that there will come a day when there will be a hole that cannot be filled, when there are no survivors left and when the Holocaust is no longer in living memory.

When we mark the 100th anniversary of the end of the Shoah, we will do so in a different world, a world in which there are likely to be few, if any, living witnesses to the annihilation of the Jews of Europe.

While there is nothing that can replace Holocaust survivors, it is down to all of us in the field of Holocaust education, and the community as a whole, to look at ways to ensure that this doesn’t just become a footnote in the history pages.

This week, the Holocaust Educational Trust launched 70 Voices: Victims, Perpetrators, Bystanders.

This free, downloadable app, which explores the stories of the people at the centre of the Holocaust, will help us to bring the Shoah to new audiences, on new platforms, in a new and digital age.

Our young Ambassadors are working to share their experiences of visiting Auschwitz with their peers and communities across the country.

Next week, the Prime Minister will announce the findings of the Holocaust Commission, which will act as a springboard for all of us in the field to reconsider how future generations will learn about and remember the Holocaust.

However, this is not enough. There are still young people who are not being reached, there are still people who do not hear from a survivor or visit the camps for themselves and there are still people in the UK who do not know what the Holocaust was.

As we reflect on the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War and the liberation of the camps of Europe, it is vital that we all renew our efforts.

Now, more than ever, we need to work to ensure these stories are told. Jewish News’ foresight in handing over this edition to be edited by this incredible group of survivors, is to be applauded.

Their hard work has given us the opportunity to reflect on why it is so important that this Holocaust Memorial Day we take the time to remember the victims of the Holocaust and to commemorate the survivors.

We pledge to you, the survivors living in our communities, that we will carry the torch and keep your memories alive.

About the Author
Karen Pollock is the Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust (H.E.T.)
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