Two Holocaust survivors have been granted the Freedom of the City of the London.
Ben Helfgott and Sabina Miller received the honour today for their work with the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust.
Polish-born Mr Helfgott said he was grateful to the City of London Corporation for the award.
“We accept it on behalf of all Holocaust survivors in the UK, who strive to keep alive the memory of those who perished, and to ensure that the lessons of the Holocaust are learnt in order to avoid such a tragedy ever happening again,” he said.
Mrs Miller, who was also born in Poland, said she was overjoyed.
Mrs Miller, who is now based in West Hampstead, said: “After surviving the Holocaust and coming to the UK, I was apprehensive, but I fell in love with this country because what I got was kindness and acceptance. To become a Freeman of the City of London is a wonderful privilege. I hope this will help raise awareness of Holocaust Memorial Day, when everyone should reflect on the horrors of the Holocaust and genocide.”
Jeremy Mayhew, chairman of the City of London Corporation’s charity, City Bridge Trust, said: “We owe them a huge debt of gratitude for their work in keeping alive the memory of the persecution that they, and so many others, suffered during World War Two.
“After more than seven decades, it must still be deeply painful for them to tell their stories and relive their experiences and yet, they do so in order to educate people about the corrosive effects of prejudice and the unspeakable horrors committed during conflict.”
Harrow-based Mr Helfgott, a former Olympic weightlifter, was a boy when the Nazis invaded his Polish home town of Piotrkow, Lodz. He was moved to a ghetto, the first in Europe, in November 1939 and worked in a glass factory. At one point, SS guards marched into the factory and rounded up anyone they believed was Jewish. The man in charge saved his life by telling the SS men that he was Polish. In 1943, his sister and mother were taken from the ghetto to the woods and shot along with 520 others. The following year he and his father were moved to Buchenwald.
Mr Helfgott was eventually transported to Theresienstadt in April 1945. Three weeks later it was liberated. He subsequently discovered that his father had been shot a few days before the end of the war attempting to flee a death march.
He has been chairman of the ’45 Aid Society, an association formed by and for the 732 young people who arrived in England in 1945 from Nazi Europe.
“I’m involved with every aspect of the Holocaust today, from education to survivors,” he once told the JC. “I have never hidden my background because I always believed it was very important for people to know. The Holocaust is something that is part of me. I feel very close to those people who didn’t survive. How can I forget them?”
Warsaw-born Mrs Miller and her family were moved to the Warsaw Ghetto after the invasion where, she believes, her parents probably died of typhus. In 1942, a 20-year-old Mrs Miller was smuggled out of the ghetto with her younger brother by a Polish man. She went onto to survive the war by living in the Polish countryside and assuming different identities.