Prince Charles sends 'most heartfelt condolences' to Jewish community ahead of burial of six Shoah victims

'We will never know their names, the family and community who nurtured them, nor the kind of lives they lived before their imprisonment and murder'


Britain's Prince Charles, Prince of Wales arrives to attend the wedding of Britain's Princess Eugenie of York to Jack Brooksbank at St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, in Windsor, on October 12, 2018. (Photo by Gareth Fuller / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read GARETH FULLER/AFP/Getty Images)

The Prince of Wales has sent his “most heartfelt condolences” to the Jewish community ahead of the burial of six Holocaust victims, saying he could “think of no better tribute to them” than the unprecedented ceremony this Sunday.

In a letter to the Chief Rabbi, Prince Charles said: “As patron of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, I just wanted to write and say how moved I was to hear about the arrangements being made to provide dignified and final rest to six victims of the Holocaust.

“It appears that, tragically, we will never know their names, the family and community who nurtured them, nor the kind of lives they lived before their imprisonment and murder.

"Yet we can say with certainty, that, along with millions of other victims of the Shoah, they were denied their very humanity.

“I can think of no better tribute to them than to restore a semblance of that humanity with a traditional funeral, attended by so many people who are committed to keeping their memory alive.

“I am so sorry not to be able to join you for this unique act of memorial, but I would be most grateful if you could convey to the Jewish community my most heartfelt condolences. May you find comfort in our collective resolve to ensure that we never forget them.”

The prince’s statement came after the Imperial War Museum handed over the container holding the ash and bone fragments from Auschwitz Birkenau - identified as belonging to five adults and one child - to the United Synagogue, which will bury them in a special ceremony at New Bushey Cemetery on Sunday.

United Synagogue representatives, including Michael Goldstein, president of the US, and members of the organisation’s burial society, travelled to the IWM on Wednesday, where the remains were entrusted to them. Short speeches were given by Mr Goldstein and Jon Card, director of business and governance at the IWM, describing the importance of the occasion.

Rabbi Nicky Liss of Highgate Synagogue spoke to the fewer than 20 people in attendance, describing how “in a remarkable coincidence, in this week’s Torah portion in Synagogue we read about Moses fulfilling Joseph’s wish, collecting his bones during the Exodus from Egypt.

“Forty days after the giving of the Torah, when Moses descended Mount Sinai, and there was a catastrophe, he smashed the tablets, and then together with God made new ones. Ever afterwards, the Jewish people carried with them in the Ark the new tablets and the fragments of the old,” he said.

“And so it has been throughout Jewish history. We carry with us all the fragments of our people’s past, the broken lives, the anguished deaths. For we refuse to let their deaths be in vain. They, our past, live on in us as we continue the Jewish journey to the future, to hope, and to life.”

Melvyn Hartog, head of United Synagogue Burial, also spoke briefly, with a US representative telling the JC he had described a conversation he had had with the family members of one of the United Synagogue’s rabbis who had lost relatives in the Holocaust.

“They told him that this is so important, what the burial society is doing, because they don’t know what happened to the bodies or indeed the remains of their own family members,” the US spokesman said.

“And they are going to make every effort to be there on Sunday because effectively this is as close to giving them [their own family members] a burial as possible.”

Rabbi Liss, who told the JC that the ceremony was “an overwhelming responsibility, impossible to grasp — but an enormous privilege at the same time”, also recited two prayers. The first was that usually said prior to the rites of purification for the bodies of the deceased — given the nature of the remains in question, the normal rites of purification will not take place in this instance.

The second prayer was El Malei Rachamim — the traditional Jewish memorial prayer — but a specific version for the victims of the Holocaust.

After the ceremony, the remains were then taken directly to Bushey New Cemetery, where they are to be kept in the mortuary at the cemetery until the burial on Sunday.

While usually under Jewish law unburied bodies necessitate a shomer — someone to guard the deceased until the burial takes place — this requirement is waived from the point bodies arrive at the cemetery, because it is consecrated ground. 

Shortly before the burial on Sunday morning, tachrichim — the burial shrouds — will be placed into the coffin, with the remains of the Holocaust victims placed inside the shrouds.

Although the United Synagogue did not confirm how many people it was expecting to attend the funeral, it appealed earlier this week for volunteers willing to act as stewards for the ceremony, which is due to start at Sunday at 11am.

A spokesperson confirmed that as well as the main prayer hall at the cemetery, which will fit around 200 people including more than 40 Holocaust survivors, three other rooms with a combined capacity of 400 will also be used, with the ceremony live-streamed to those rooms.

Screens and speakers will also be set up outside, for any overflow crowd.

Additionally, the ceremony will be livestreamed from 11am on Sunday on the United Synagogue’s YouTube channel.

“Every effort is being made to ensure that people have a chance to see it,” the US spokesman said.

He also confirmed that the matzevah — the stone monument erected later above the grave of the deceased — “will form part of the new Holocaust memorial we will be building at Bushey New Cemetery".

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