There must be something very special about the Polish city of Piotrokow Triybunalski judging by the breed of people born there.
Three outstanding examples – all of them Holocaust survivors – are Olympic weightlifter and British knight Sir Ben Helfgott, who passed away last week at the age of 93; Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, a former Chief Rabbi of Israel and Chairman of the Yad Vashem Council; and Rena Quint, one of the best known Holocaust survivors in the English speaking world, whose articulate telling of her story has been heard by hundreds of individuals and groups in person and via Zoom, in addition to which she has been interviewed by numerous journalists and she's also on YouTube.
She was one of the survivors who last year was chosen to meet with US President Joe Biden when he visited Yad Vashem.
Helfgott and Lau each survived Buchenwald, and Quint survived Bergen Belsen.
Teenager at war's end: The story of Ben Helfgott
A teenager at the war's end, Helfgott was among 732 orphaned camp survivors under the age of 16, who were taken to England by the CBF World Jewish Relief. Like many prisoners, - both Jewish and non-Jewish – he was sent from one camp to another, and when he was finally liberated, it was from Theresienstadt, although he had also spent time in the Schlieben camp. He, and one of his sisters with whom he was reunited in England, were the only members of their family to survive.
Part of his story can be found in historian Martin Gilbert's book 'The Boys, The Story of 732 Young Concentration Camp Survivors'.
Weak and underweight when he arrived in England, Helfgott soon regained his strength, became interested in sport and discovered weightlifting, which he embraced with such enthusiasm that he became a British champion and competed in the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia.
As much as he loved sport, Helfgott was more dedicated to Holocaust remembrance and education, to caring for Holocaust survivors and to promoting cultural integration and peace.
On his first official visit to England in November 2021, President Isaac Herzog and his wife met with Helfgott at his birthday party.
Herzog tweeted on Sunday that he was saddened to hear of the passing of Sir Ben Helfgott, who, he stated, "was and will remain an inspiration and testament to the power of the human spirit to overcome darkness."
הצטערתי על מותו של סר בן הלפגוט בבריטניה בסופ״ש, ניצול שואה שזכה להעפיל לצמרת האולימפית שנים ספורות לאחר מכן. משך שנים היווה מקור השראה לצעירים ברחבי העולם, במיוחד בבריטניה ובחבר העמים, אותם לימד על יכולת האדם לצאת מהתהום האפלה ביותר. זכינו לכבדו בביקורנו בבריטניה. יהי זכרו ברוך. pic.twitter.com/v11Gve35mR— יצחק הרצוג Isaac Herzog (@Isaac_Herzog) June 17, 2023
Indeed because of his athletic triumphs and his influence on issues of humanity, Helfgott was able to meet with people from all walks of life and to rub shoulders with leading figures in politics and academia to convey the message of "never again."
Helfgott was knighted by then Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace in 2018.
Poland also recognized his achievements and awarded him the Commander Cross and the Knight Cross of the Order of Merit.
Britain's Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis described Helfgott as "a charismatic and passionate leader who promoted the values of compassion and understanding, love and peaceful coexistence." Mirvis added: "His own horrific experiences inspired him to work tirelessly for a more peaceful and unified world and he inspired us to do likewise."