Israelis’ tough stance at Auschwitz
Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau at Birkenau
Around half of the members of the Israeli Knesset flew to Poland this week in a high-security operation to honour Shoah victims on Holocaust Memorial Day.
World leaders from the UK, US and Europe joined the 54 MKs for a ceremony at Auschwitz-Birkenau, on the 69th anniversary of its liberation.
They toured the death camp, walked past cases containing 7,000 kilograms of human hair, 40,000 pairs of shoes and 12,000 glasses — remnants of the 1.1 million killed at the camp, of which 90 per cent were Jews.
For some of the Israelis, the experience reinforced a tough message.
Israeli Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, of the right-wing Habayit Hayehudi party, said: “The lesson is this: only Israel will defend Jews. We can never and we will never, rely on anyone else.
“One bomb [from the Allies] would have stopped the murder machine, and yet no one bombed.”
Likud MK Danny Danon, the deputy minister of defence, echoed the sentiment. “There are still people plotting against the Jews. But with a Jewish state, they can’t do [us harm].”
But Stirling MP Anne McGuire, one of three British parliamentarians on the visit, said UK leaders have a “special responsibility” to prevent another Holocaust.
Recognising rising levels of UK antisemitism, the Labour Friends of Israel chair urged leaders to “challenge fascism and its manifestations”.
Conservative MP for Hendon Matthew Offord backed calls to stop “political hatred and violence” in the UK. He said education was needed to stop Holocaust denial.
“We need to ensure that people aren’t able to make claims that are not true,” he said.
Lord Howard, whose grandmother died in Auschwitz, said the visit was “emotional”.
Former British Forces commander Colonel Richard Kemp attended at the invitation of Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who was sitting shivah for his wife Tatiana who had died last Thursday.
He noted that Britons were the largest group, after Poles, to visit Auschwitz last year. “It is important that British people pay tribute to the millions of Jews slaughtered in the war,” he said.
Around 1,000 people attended the interfaith memorial service, including Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel David Lau, who carried a Sefer Torah to the ceremony, which was organised by charity From The Depths.
Chazan Chaim Adler, of the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem, sang the El malei rachamim memorial prayer for the dead.
But British Professor Jonathan Webber, a founding member of the International Auschwitz council, was “offended” by the omission of non-Jewish victims from the prayer.
“They’ve made a terrible blunder,” he said. “They’ve mentioned the six million Jews, but not the goyim. It doesn’t reflect well on us.”
Security at the event was tight after far-right Polish groups campaigned to stop the event. The attempted ban came after a Warsaw University survey found that two-thirds of Poles believe in the global Jewish banker conspiracy.
But Rabbi Avi Baumol, rabbinic representative to the Chief Rabbi of Poland in Krakow, said there “is still antisemitism here, but there’s also philosemitism. My experience over the past five months has been extremely positive. I walk with my kippah and people say ‘shalom’.”
The ceremony was followed by a dinner attended by 650 guests.
Italian opera singer Andrea Bocelli performed with the Krakow Philharmonic Orchestra.
“We have an immense task to remember this,” said Mr Bocelli in testament to the victims.
Cousins behind historic service
From The Depths is the brainchild of two Jewish cousins from north-west London.
Jonny Daniels, aged 28, and Joe Tankel, 26, set up the charity six months ago to preserve Holocaust remembrance.
Former Hasmonean student Mr Daniels, who made aliyah a decade ago from Finchley, said growing up around Shoah survivors inspired him.
“We’re making history,” he said. “We say never again, but the reason why it will never happen again, is because there is a Jewish state.
“It’s important for all the parliamentarians around the world to stand with survivors and the state of Israel.
“This event had to happen now. In Israel, one survivor dies every hour. These people are a shining light, but they’re leaving us incredibly fast.”
Mr Tankel, a former Haberdashers student, gave up his job and moved back to his Stanmore home to co-organise the event.
“I can’t believe we’re here. I can tell you that I haven’t slept in two weeks,” he said.
The event cost the charity around £500,000 — with funding from American donors and survivors.
Israelis leave survivor stranded
Members of the delegation, including a Holocaust survivor, a rabbi and a senior British army officer, were left to stand in sub-zero conditions after members of the Israeli group hijacked their coach.
Survivor Professor Alexander Fried, 88, was prevented from boarding the coach by a security guard.
An argument ensued between the Israeli woman official and non-Jewish tour guide Arthur Davidson, who desperately tried to reclaim the coach.
After further negotiations, some members of the delegation were permitted to board, but only to retreive belongings.
American Orthodox rabbi Shmuel Boteach and Colonel Richard Kemp were left seeking alternative transport.
Another coach finally arrived over an hour later to take the remaining members of the delegation — around 20 people — back to their hotel in Krakow city centre.
Later, part of the Israeli delegation, including Economy Minister Naftali Bennett and MK Ayelet Shaked, was delayed at Krakow Military Airport for over seven hours after their plane developed technical problems.