Memories of Mandela: The day Nelson met the Board of Deputies


Nelson Mandela spoke at a special Board of Deputies dinner in his honour in April 2000, telling guests that peace in the Middle East was essential.

The former South African president warned that nations could not survive on the strength of their armies alone.

"We have seen countries that thought they would establish empires for eternity," he said, "ruled by Alexander the Great, Caesar, by Charles the Great and Hitler. Where are they now?

"They were destroyed by ordinary men and women like you and me."

Mr Mandela argued that the Arab states would not attack Israel en masse, but warned: "It must remain that might can never solve problems."

Sheffield-based deputy and Holocaust survivor Agnes Grunwald-Spier attended the dinner.

She said the event had been the "opportunity of a lifetime" and described the scene as Mr Mandela arrived.

"There was a slight delay, but eventually there was a silence and then suddenly the side door opened and wedged in a posse of Board officials there was a figure who looked so familiar.

"Much taller than I had expected - I looked at him and had the vacuous thought: 'He looks just like his photos'.

"He just stood still, smiled and overwhelmed by his presence, the many cameras rushed into action."

Ms Grunwald-Spier said the dinner guests had been "mesmerised" by Mr Mandela.

"He spoke for 40 minutes without notes and discussed his respect for Jews and how it was a Jewish legal firm that gave him his first job.

"It was through them that he became a lawyer. It was also only Jewish lawyers who were willing to defend him during his trials.

"He consequently had enormous respect for Jews."

During a question and answer session, Ms Grunwald-Spier took her opportunity to ask Mr Mandela what advice he could offer Holocaust survivors like herself.

She said Mr Mandela had looked her "straight in the eye" and offered his sympathy for the experiences of the Shoah.

But he concluded: "The scars in the heart are invisible wounds that are impossible to heal."

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