On his first visit to England, 85-year-old retired Israeli Army general, Aryeh Lebovitz, took a gruelling speaking schedule in his stride.
After all, this was a man who had survived the horrors of Auschwitz, two Nazi death marches and a firing squad. He was recruited for the KGB following his liberation by Russian forces and was an undercover agent for the Haganah. At just 20, he was a commander in the campaign to secure Haifa and its port for the Jewish forces in 1948, a game-changer in the establishment of Israel.
Holocaust education organisation JRoots brought him to England, where he spoke to pupils at JFS, Hasmonean and Haberdashers Aske’s in London, and the Liverpool and Manchester King David schools. As part of JRoots’ schools programme, 60 sixth-formers from the King David schools were accompanied by Mr Lebovitz on one of its five-day Poland trips.
“I didn’t come to the UK to rest,” he said. “I want these youngsters to be my messengers. If there is something I’ve learned from my life, it is that you have to create a tomorrow for the Jewish people. If you don’t create it, there isn’t going to be a tomorrow.”
Among those on the Polish trip was 17-year-old Nathan Jacobs from Prestwich, who said the experience had been invaluable. “We stood in the basement of Amon Goeth’s mansion, the SS commandant of the Płaszów concentration camp, with a survivor and sung Am Yisrael Chai louder than anything I’ve ever heard.
“We met Welsh people there who thought the Holocaust only happened in Auschwitz. General Lebovitz spoke a lot about telling the story to other people. People still need to know.”