Poignancy that spoke louder than any words

The Holocaust

May 08, 2015 13:21

When I was strolling through the gardens of the cemetery at Belsen at the huge Hohne Barracks of the British Forces in Germany, the sun was breaking through the heavy, rain-laden clouds, and one could feel the silence and a remarkable sense of peace.

I later remarked to the editor of this paper that at the service later in the afternoon the combination of such silence and the music of the beautiful choral voices and solo violinist spoke louder that any words.

I had joined members of the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women (Ajex) who had come over for the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp by British troops.

Ajex contingents have come regularly over the years, in particular on the 50th anniversary, led by Jack Lewis, and the 60th, accompanied by HRH The Duke of Gloucester, who also attended the recent commemorations.

It is often forgotten that British troops not only liberated Belsen but the Royal Medical Corps, with many young volunteer student doctors and nurses, gave their all to try to help the 1000s of survivors, many of whom died after liberation.

Typhus was rampant and starvation for many had reached a point of no return. Many of the nursing staff also succumbed in these terrible conditions.

The commanding officer of British forces in Germany invited us to stay at the officers' mess of Hohne Garrison, the HQ of British forces serving in Germany. This base is right alongside the site of the Belsen concentration camp.

Earlier that morning, we took part in the official 70th anniversary commemorations at the obelisk and Wall of Memories which are on the very site of the camp.

There were many thousands attending, including a large number of the Jewish community who live in Lower Saxony, and many German non-Jews.

The Duke of Gloucester, the Federal Chancellor, and several other German dignitaries were in attendance together with many who had flow in from all parts of the world.

During the service there were several hugely moving, soul-wrenching accounts by survivors of their dreadful years in this camp, all demonstrating an extraordinary capability to remake their lives and with a remarkable strength to live for the future.

The Jewish service in the afternoon was, of course, smaller and many of the participants had flown in that very morning from England.

In a way, these services at the Jewish memorials were more intimate and even more poignant. These services arranged by Ajex were led by Major Reuben Livingstone, who is our Jewish Padre for British Military Forces, together with the Chief Rabbi and Rabbi Barry Marcus.

The Ajex contingent was headed by our national chairman, Jeffrey Fox, Jack Weiser, and Colonel Martin Newman who is chairman of the Jewish committee for HM Forces.

Alongside them were a number of serving Jewish personnel in our armed forces, our splendid standard bearers, and many others.

When the Last Post was sounded many old backs were straightened, heads held high with great pride remembering with private grief those who died in this place of unbelievable atrocities.

I am sure that many were also remembering all those who were killed in battle and wounded in mind and body to give us the freedom that we enjoy today.

Have we all, in truth, over the decades that have passed, done enough in any way to justify their selfless sacrifice?

I mean, of course, those aged 17, 18, 19 or 20? Sadly the answer has to be no.

Since we have been in this country, the Jewish community has contributed greatly.

In particular, since I have the privilege and honour of being involved with the Association of Jewish ex-Servicemen and Women, I have met many very special people whose extraordinary dedication and empathy is such that I feel it is perhaps unique in our Jewish community.

They are also incredibly proud of being British and to have served - and continue to serve - Queen and country.

I hope that Jews and non-Jews throughout the world will continue to fight genocide no matter where it might occur, therefore ensuring that there will never ever be another Belsen.

May 08, 2015 13:21

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