Survivors’ stories project receives Queen’s Award

Manchester volunteer initiative turns testimonies into hardback books


A Manchester project documenting the stories of Holocaust survivors has received the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service — the UK’s highest accolade for volunteering.

Participants in the My Voice programme, a standalone scheme run by communal welfare charity The Fed, were recognised for their “outstanding work for the local community”.

My Voice has involved more than 50 volunteers collating and publishing the stories of Manchester-based survivors in a series of hardback books.

To date, the lives of 28 people have been documented, with another 11 books being progressed.

The process is long and intricate, with months devoted to interviews, writing and editing. The books are also an important contribution to Holocaust legacy as the number of survivors diminishes.

“It’s so much more than just telling the survivors’ stories,” explained Rebecca Weinberg, a project volunteer for four years. “It’s about using those stories as the most amazing educational tool.

“I sit for hours and hours with a survivor and a tape recorder and it’s all at their pace. They tell me their story through conversations and it really is an honour.

“It can be very emotional for them, and for me, but every experience — and they are all so different — has to be told.”

The books produced by My Voice are not exclusively about the Shoah. The experiences of the subjects before and after also feature, celebrating lives rebuilt in the wake of tragedy.

“We help to validate their lives,” said Juliette Pearce, The Fed’s volunteer services manager.

“Their stories tell of their successes and the wonderful contributions they have made to the Greater Manchester community and beyond in terms of work, communal office and so forth. They are stories of triumph.”

Ike Alterman, one of the Windermere Boys who came to Britain as a child refugee, has had his story published through My Voice. “Sometimes it got very emotional”, he told the JC.

“But I am privileged that I’m still capable of passing on my experiences and some of my unfortunate past. Hopefully the people who read the book will take note and live a life where they will never see what I have seen.

“When I [give talks] to some schools with young children I cannot describe some of the atrocities — I have to adjust my speech.

“But when I am speaking to grown up people, I can tell them.”

Volunteers will receive their Queen’s Award crystal and certificate from the Lord-Lieutenant of Greater Manchester later this summer. In addition, two volunteers will attend a Buckingham Palace garden party next year.

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