'I never dreamed of this' - Holocaust survivors recognised in Queen's Birthday Honours

Walter Kammerling, Ernest Simon, Gabrielle Keenaghan, Ruzena Levy, Hans Vulkan, and husband and wife Ann and Bob Kirk have collectively spoken to more than 100,000 UK schoolchildren


A group of Holocaust survivors who have been honoured in the Queen's Birthday Honours spoke of their pride and gratitude at a ceremony at London’s Jewish Museum.

Those receiving British Empire Medals (BEM) for their contribution to Holocaust education and remembrance were Walter Kammerling, Ernest Simon, Gabrielle Keenaghan, Ruzena Levy, Hans Vulkan, and husband and wife Ann and Bob Kirk.

Collectively, they have shared their testimonies with more than 100,000 UK schoolchildren, according to the Cabinet Office, which administers the honours.

At the ceremony, Mrs Levy, 88, said: “What words can I say? I’m very honoured, of course, and very humbled that I am getting an honour.

“I never, ever dreamed of this. This is a great thing.”

Mrs Levy, the only member of her family to survive the Holocaust, recounted her account of the Shoah, which saw her taken from her home in Czechoslovakia to Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen.

She was joined onstage by Mr Kammerling, as well as Vera Schaufeld and Helena Aronson – who were both honoured in the 2019 New Year Honours with an MBE and a BEM, respectively.

Mr Kammerling, 95, then spoke of witnessing Kristallnacht – which he called a “romantic word for an ugly pogrom”.

He was then sent alone from Vienna to Britain on the Kindertransport. The rest of his family, with the exception of his eldest sister, were sent to Theresienstadt and later Auschwitz-Birkenau, where they were murdered.

He said: “I am really honoured. Just to think about it – that somehow I am ever really worthy of getting this honour. I don’t feel I am so really very special.

“When I talk to my family about what happened and so on, it is a personal talk. This honour, I feel, does include all my family as well. It makes them more aware of what happened, and not just this – but of what can happen.”

Holocaust Education Trust chief executive Karen Pollock said the group had made “such a positive contribution to the UK since their arrival”.

She added: “Sadly though, despite their inspirational commitment and seemingly endless energy, we know that time is limited. And they know they can’t share their testimonies forever.

“Though smaller in number, there are still survivors who continue to share their testimony. They work hard to educate about the Holocaust. It is my view that all survivors who have not yet been recognised for their effort should be.

“We are indebted to all of you. Against a backdrop of rising antisemitism, Holocaust denial and hate, we must increase our efforts to make sure the memory of the past is preserved and shared, so that future generations know what happened

“Your words, your voices and your testimonies are needed now more than ever.”

The group joined survivors Cirla Lewis, Mrs Schaufeld, Mrs Aronson, Taube Biber, Eva Clarke, who were honoured in the 2019 New Year Honours.

In the 2018 Birthday Honours, Sir Ben Helfgott was knighted for services to Holocaust remembrance and education.

Mr Vulkan, who was also there, told the JC that he decided to share his story at schools across the UK because “it is amazing how interested children are”.

The 89-year-old, also from Vienna, said: “I speak at a lot of schools, and I always get a great response – particularly from immigrant children, many of whom are Muslim.

“Some of them tell me about how they escaped from places like Afghanistan, or somewhere like that. And they say ‘We understand how you felt’, and they come up and hug me. It’s marvellous.”

Mr Simon, 89, added: “When you tell [children] your story, and when you hear the questions they ask, you realise that you’re getting through”.

Olivia Marks-Woldman, chief executive of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, said: “We are privileged to work with survivors of the Holocaust who give so much of their time to speak in memory of the millions of people who were murdered.

“It is wonderful to see their impact celebrated with these honours, representing recognition from the highest levels of our society.

“As fewer survivors are able to share their experiences, we must all commit to learning from genocide and keeping the stories of those who were murdered alive.”

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