London ceremonies mark Holocaust Memorial Day

Former British POW Denis Avey honored for changing places with a Jewish prisoner in Auschwitz.

January 28, 2010 02:01
2 minute read.
Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

rabbi sacks UK 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

LONDON - The 10th annual UK Holocaust Memorial Day and 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, were marked by an array events across the UK on Wednesday.

Holocaust survivors were joined by survivors from other genocides at a national commemoration at the Guildhall in central London on Wednesday evening.

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Britain's Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks, together with Bergen-Belsen survivor, Mala Tribich, spoke at Gladys Aylward High School in Enfield, north London to over 200 students.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams said that the 2010 commemorations were focused on "the survivors of the Shoah, the unique human beings who are the primary source for our continued attention, our understanding and our need to continue to work at the lessons in a world that seems not yet to have learned them."

"The words of Holocaust survivors should set an example," said Holocaust Memorial Day Trust chief executive Carly Whyborn. "They don't talk about revenge or hatred, they talk about hope, about creating a cohesive society for all of us."

On Tuesday Mayor of London Boris Johnson held a ceremony at City Hall with the London Assembly, dignitaries and invited guests.

Organized by London-based Jewish charity Spiro Ark and its Israeli Cultural Centre Tzavta, the London Assembly heard statements from survivors and from Israeli violin maker Amnon Weinstein, who spent over 15 years collecting and restoring instruments used by Holocaust victims which were played by musicians during the ceremony.

The "violins of hope" are the same instruments that were played in the death camps, often while inmates were marching to their deaths. They were also played by Jewish musicians in the ghettos. The fragile wooden instruments survived to tell the story of millions exterminated during the Holocaust.

Johnson read from Eli Wiesel's "Never Should I Forget" and two non-Jewish students from London schools told of their experience visiting Auschwitz with the Holocaust Education Trust as part of their Lessons from Auschwitz Project.

Wartime hero Denis Avey, 91 - who as a British prisoner of war risked his life and swapped clothes with a Jewish prisoner in Auschwitz - joined survivors to mark the day on Tuesday at the Holocaust Centre in Nottinghamshire.

Avey's heroic actions provided the Jewish prisoner with the opportunity to receive vital food and rest in the British camp, while he gathered facts from within the death camp.

During his time in Auschwitz he befriended prisoner Ernst Lobethall and was able to procure cigarettes, used to bribe camp guards, and chocolate, enabling him to survive Auschwitz. Lobethall died in 2002, never finding out the name of the British soldier who saved his life.

"For anyone to change places even for a night with a Jewish prisoner was unheard of," said Auschwitz survivor Arek Hersh, who lost 80 members of his family in the Holocaust and was among the survivors taking part in the commemoration.

For many years Avey never spoke about his experiences and his remarkable story has only recently been discovered. He is now being considered by Yad Vashem for the title of Righteous among the Nations.

"At a time when most would place their own survival above all, Denis had the inner resource to show humanity toward others," says Dr. James Smith, chief executive of the Holocaust Center. "He's an inspiration; a hero who richly deserves recognition for his selfless actions."

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