Survivors want their stories told

By Marcus Dysch, July 30, 2009
Rene Salt (left), Judith Hassan and Lily Ebert at the survivors’ centre

Rene Salt (left), Judith Hassan and Lily Ebert at the survivors’ centre

British Jews are asked to take a greater role in documenting the testimony of those who escaped the Shoah.

The appeal has come from Jewish Care’s Holocaust Survivors’ Centre in Hendon, which wants the wider community to help record the experiences of its 550 members, passing on the baton of remembrance for future generations.

Explained Judith Hassan, the charity’s director of services for survivors and refugees: “The survivors have been the guardians of memory and they need to pass that on to others. It’s the responsibility of the whole community to be the links in the chain so that the memories of what happened are preserved.” The centre’s members deserved greater recognition of their lives and achievements, she added.

For Auschwitz survivor Lily Ebert, who helped set up the HSC in the 1990s, its existence is a lifeline. “The community thinks that what we went through is our problem to deal with. But it’s not. Everyone should be involved,” she stressed.

“We need younger people to take over our work so that the Holocaust is not forgotten. The children want to — it’s their parents who do not.”

She recalled that before the centre, survivors met in each other’s houses. “We are not alone, that’s the most important thing. The problem is that every day there are fewer of us.”

The centre is open to those who were in camps, ghettos, or were hiding from Nazi oppression, plus the children who came to Britain on the Kindertransport.

Members enjoy activities including a film club, fitness classes and discussion sessions, as well as dining together.

Increasingly, the HSC is working with Jewish schools to pass on survivors’ stories — and even languages and recipes — to the young generation. JFS pupils are regular visitors and a joint venture with the school will see pupils teaching the survivors computer skills. But the centre needs extra funding for a full-time employee to work on the linking projects.

“People who have gone through trauma find it hard to ask for help,” Ms Hassan pointed out. “We cannot ‘cure’ the survivors that are left, but we can help them live with the trauma. The emotional repercussions of the Shoah surface as they get older, when they retire and their children leave home. We try to offer relief from traumatic memories.

“New people join when they find out about us. Our membership is steady. We want to maximise each survivor’s life through social programmes, speaking in schools or prisons and by recording their legacies.”
Many members referred to the centre as their home. “For people who lost their entire community, they needed somewhere they felt they could belong and have a voice.”

Rene Salt came to Britain after liberation from Belsen in 1945. She is one of the HSC’s most active members, serving on its advisory committee.

“We discuss everything — things that are happening in the world, Holocaust denial, life in the Jewish community,” she said. “It helps us because we can share our experiences. We feel a sense of needing to combat the deniers.”

Last updated: 2:22pm, July 30 2009