UK will seek out Auschwitz files

By Martin Bright, February 9, 2012

The Ministry of Defence has agreed to release all files relating to the father of Israeli President Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Persky, who was held captive as a British prisoner of war at Auschwitz.

Officials and archivists are now on the search for details of Mr Persky's time at Camp E715, situated next to the Buna-Monowitz camp, which provided slave labour to the IG Farben chemical factory. Last month the JC launched a campaign to release the Auschwitz PoW files after discovering Mr Persky was an inmate. Shadow Defence Secretary, Jim Murphy, Labour Friends of Israel and the Holocaust Educational Trust have all backed the campaign.

Defence Minister Andrew Robathan has replied to a letter from Harlow MP Robert Halfon, requesting the release of the files, saying that the MoD would do everything in its power to identify them.

Mr Persky, a Polish Jew who settled in British Mandate Palestine, joined the Royal Engineers at the outbreak of the war. He was captured in Greece and spent most of the war in PoW camps.

Mr Halfon said: "I welcome the fact that the government is looking at this. It is a real opportunity to pay tribute to the many British soldiers at E715 who bore witness to the Holocaust, and risked their own lives to help people escape".

So far researchers have failed to find the records, but it is thought Mr Persky may have adopted the name of a dead comrade to avoid identification as a Jew. The new information will help clarify the relationship between Mr Persky and the legendary head of the E715 camp, Sergeant-Major Charles Coward, the first British soldier to be honoured at Yad Vashem for helping Jewish prisoners escape from Auschwitz.

Shimon Peres's biographer, Michael Bar-Zohar, is convinced that Mr Persky was closely involved in the Coward plans. "He helped Coward to save Jewish Auschwitz inmates, and many of them survived and came to Israel," he said. "He hosted Coward in Israel when he came for a visit, and that's how Shimon and his brother Gigi learned quite a few things about their father's past."

Last updated: 12:47pm, February 9 2012