Jewish Labour MP to cycle 100km for Holocaust memorial charity fundraiser

Fabian Hamilton MP - a self-described 'old man in lycra' - will cycle from Huddersfield University to The National Holocaust Centre in Nottinghamshire


Fabian Hamilton MP is taking on a 100-kilometre (62 mile) cycle ride to raise money for the Holocaust Survivors Friendship Association (HSFA) and to support the “wonderful and extraordinary” permanent exhibition at Huddersfield University. 

Hamilton is also riding in memory of the lives of Lillian Black, one of the founders of the HSFA, and his great-grandmother, Raina Sévilla, who was murdered at Birkenau in July 1942. 

The Jewish Labour MP for Leeds North East will be setting off from Huddersfield University at 9.30am on Thursday morning with the aim of reaching The National Holocaust Centre and Museum in Nottinghamshire in time for a cup of tea at the end of the day. 

He has set a fundraising target of £2,000, but hopes to raise more. 

He told the JC: “I'm a quite an experienced cyclist; I do a lot of cycling. I've just put some new wheels on my bike, serviced it, and made sure it's working okay. And when you get to my age, you need all the help you can get going up hills, believe me, but it's not electric. There's no power.” 

“I’m a proper OMIL, I’m not a MAMIL. You’ve heard of a MAMIL – a middle-aged man in lycra? I’m an OMIL – an old man in lycra! My wife hates me wearing it.”

The HSFA was founded in 1996 by a small Leeds-based group of Holocaust survivors in order to document and share their experiences of the Nazi genocide. 

They have since created a permanent exhibition at Huddersfield University for visitors to experience the testimony of survivors, and to understand the horrors that they went through – but they need more funding. 

Fabian Hamilton MP's great-grandmother, Raina Sévilla, was murdered at Birkenau in July 1942, which drives his motivation to ensure the centre is properly funded: “It's so essential that this centre in Huddersfield is preserved to carry that personal witness through to the future long after the deaths of the individuals involved.”

The centre houses multimedia exhibitions that tell the stories of those who suffered through the Holocaust. 

“The survivors tell their stories of discrimination, persecution, escape, hiding, ghettos, forced labour, concentration camps and liberation through filmed testimony on six interactive touchscreens,” the centre’s website says. 

But since the pandemic hit, and the funding provided by the National Lottery Heritage Fund years ago has decreased, the centre has struggled to raise the money to continue its work, which is why Hamilton is taking on the 100km challenge: “I want to raise £2,000. It's a modest sum, but you wouldn’t believe how far £2,000 would go. So, every penny is welcome.” 

The 67-year-old said he is well-prepared for the challenge that will involve around 3,200 feet of hill climbs: “The idea is to complete it in one day, which I will do. I'm hoping to stop in Rotherham and see one of my parliamentary colleagues who's contributed towards the ride.” 

Asked if he feels ready, Hamilton said: “It's all about training. You will know in life that preparation is everything, and it’s the same with sport.  

“I'm a late-comer to sport. I hated sport until I was about 40-44, when I was told that my blood pressure was so high that I would die of heart disease if I didn't do something about it. And so, I did and I went cycling and I haven't looked back and I'm really glad to say that, even though I'm diabetic, I've got all the indicators right; all the things are going doing quite well. It's good to keep fit.”  

“I'm not saying nothing will go wrong, I'm not saying I won't feel exhausted 10 miles before the end, but I will do it. I will complete it. I'm hoping I can get there in good time to get a cuppa when I get to the museum.” 

The day will be all focus for Hamilton, who does not listen to music or podcasts while riding: “A lot of people do when they're cycling because it can be a bit boring. But my view is you've got to concentrate really hard, because you are riding on a road that cars use and you've got to be very aware. I even have a wing-mirror.” 

Hamilton said that despite the challenge, he's looking forward to Thursday: “There's a lot of preparation, but the main thing is to raise the money for a good cause. And in this case, I think I can think of no better cause than remembering the people who lost their lives and the people who survived in spite of the Holocaust.” 

This will be the start of a long-term association with the centre as the last remaining Holocaust survivors pass away, and the need for their stories to continue to be told grows even greater: “I've said to Alessandro [who runs the centre], ‘I will be there as your parliamentary contact, as the local MP for many of the people involved, but as somebody who's passionately committed to it’, because we just simply can't afford to let this go, to let these people die. 

“They might die physically, but they can't die as far as their testimony is concerned. They've got to continue. I will be there to help. I will be an instrument to help, I will be part of the collective to ensure that they can achieve what they need to and continue this indefinitely, and I'm passionate committed to that. It's the start of a continued commitment.” 

You can donate to Fabian's ride here

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