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Yesterday, the Holocaust Educational Trust led a delegation of over two hundred Holocaust Educational Trust Ambassadors, students, teachers and Trust supporters to take part in international commemorations to mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen. It was an incredibly moving day and a privilege to be there on what was probably the last significant anniversary of the liberation that we will mark with survivors and liberators still with us in any great number.
We attended a commemoration at the site of the Jewish memorial in Bergen-Belsen where we heard from the President of Germany, Joachim Gauck, and the Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis. We also heard a moving recital of the Jewish memorial prayer led by the Shabbaton Choir in a ceremony also attended by the Duke of Gloucester. This was followed by a service led by the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women (AJEX) alongside Holocaust survivors, dignitaries and delegations from across the world. Approximately 70,000 Jewish people died at Bergen-Belsen from disease, starvation and mistreatment at the hands of the Nazis.
British liberator Bernard Levy talks to the Trust’s delegation at Bergen-Belsen
We were delighted to meet Bernard Levy who was one of the British liberators of the camp 70 years ago. What he discovered when he arrived at Belsen shocked and horrified him so much that he only felt able to speak about it 68 years later. It was incredibly powerful to hear from him and our group were fortunate enough to be able to ask him questions. He later met Holocaust survivors Eva Behar and Mala Tribich who expressed their gratitude for all that the liberating British soldiers had done to restore their freedom.
British liberator Bernard Levy meeting Holocaust survivor Eva Behar who was liberated from Bergen-Belsen.
Later, we attended a very moving commemoration at the Jewish cemetery at the British Bergen-Hohne Garrison. The Garrison was originally the site of a Displaced Persons Camp in operation until 1950. The Jewish cemetery is where thousands of people who could not be saved in the weeks following liberation were buried. After 70 years, the British will soon be leaving the site of Bergen-Hohne making this ceremony the last commemoration on this site to be led by the British Army.
After the service, participants wrote messages and laid witnessing stones, a Jewish tradition, on a plaque dedicated to the memory of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen on 15th April 1945.
Witnessing stones laid at the Jewish Cemetery at the British Bergen-Hohne Garrison.
It was a very moving and emotional day and one which we’re sure will stay with all of us for a very long time.
With best wishes,
Karen Pollock MBE
Each country will feel different and have a different national context this week for commemorating the liberation of Auschwitz 70 years ago tomorrow, and Holocaust Memorial Day more generally.
I imagine that in France and Belgium where I have lived, the national narrative about Jewish people and the Holocaust will be quite different, and possibly quite a bit more difficult, than here in the UK because of the very different national context for Jewish people. Here in the UK teaching the Holocaust is embedded in the national curriculum, statements of commitment to Holocaust education have come from our national leaders, and a national charity (the HMD Trust, www.hmd.org.uk) annually provides civic, school and faith organisations with resources with which to organise commemorations.
France have the Fondation Pour La Memoire de la Shoah and the national commemoration tomorrow will be addressed by President Francois Hollande at 9 am. At 6 pm, members of the Association of Auschwitz Survivors will light a memorial flame under the Arc de Triomphe.
“Nous sommes avec vous de tout coeur,” say we in Bristol to them in France.
— Fondation Shoah (@Fondation_Shoah) January 26, 2015