Holocaust Memorial Day: Israel to honor survivors

“We are building a global coalition of leaders who can send a strong message that will resonate around the world."

Ben Helfgott is knighted by Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace (photo credit: Courtesy)
Ben Helfgott is knighted by Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It was heartwarming to learn that the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List included a dozen Holocaust survivors. Among them are Ruth Barnett, 82, from London, and William Bergman, 86, of West Parley, both of whom were awarded an MBE for their services to Holocaust education.
On January 10, inspiring Holocaust survivor Agnes Keleti celebrated her 99th birthday at her home in Budapest. Keleti won 10 Olympic medals in gymnastics — five of them gold — in Helsinki in 1952 and Melbourne in 1956.
I met the only other living survivor who won Olympic medals, Ben Helfgott, in 2014 when I joined a Limmud FSU delegation to the childhood home of Elie Wiesel in Sighet. The diminutive Helfgott, with his piercing blue eyes, captivated me. “It’s important for everyone to know about the Holocaust, and not just Jews,” he told me.
Born in Poland on November 22, 1929, he survived the Shoah in the Piotrków ghetto, Buchenwald and Theresienstadt. Sent to England after the war with 700 other young people, he became a top weightlifter, winning the 11-stone title in 1954 and the lightweight championship in 1955, 1956 and 1958. He captained the British weightlifting team at the Melbourne Olympics in 1956 and the Rome Olympics in 1960, and won gold medals at the 1950, 1953, and 1957 Maccabiah Games.
He married Arza, had three sons, ran a clothing firm and dedicated himself to helping other survivors, founding the ’45 Aid Society and becoming a longtime board member of the Claims Conference. On November 21, 2018, a day before his 90th birthday, Helfgott was knighted by Prince Charles for his contribution to Holocaust remembrance and education.
This issue of The Jerusalem Report is being printed a week before the historic event at Yad Vashem titled “Remembering the Holocaust, Fighting Antisemitism,” initiated by Dr. Moshe Kantor, President of the European Jewish Congress, who I interviewed for the cover story.
“We are building a global coalition of leaders who can send a strong message that will resonate around the world that antisemitism, in all its forms, is absolutely unacceptable,” Kantor says.
Among the dozens of dignitaries expected is Britain’s Prince Charles, whose first official visit to Israel is featured in an article by Neville Teller, an immigrant from London awarded an MBE in 2006 for services to broadcasting and drama.
“The last heir to the throne who came to the Holy Land in 1862 was Queen Victoria’s son, later to become King Edward VII,” says Teller. “Then Prince William came in June 2018, breaking the British embargo placed on royal visits to Israel by the Foreign Office – and charmed the Israeli public during his tour of the country.”
Amid an alarming spike in antisemitism around the world, Kantor is launching a social media campaign that involves prominent personalities holding out their palms with the message, “Stop This Story!”  Among those leading the campaign is American sex therapist, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, 91, a survivor who has spoken out against antisemitism and other forms of hate during her iconic life. Dr. Ruth, who like Sir Ben is a tiny powerhouse, once told me that her experience in the Shoah had led her to fight for Israel and engage in “tikkun olam” – the Jewish concept of repairing the world. “I didn’t know that my repairing the world would be talking about sex day and night,” she quipped.
We dedicate this issue to the heroism of Sir Ben, Dr. Ruth, Agnes Keleti and the survivors who are still here to remind us of the horrors of the Holocaust, and to Dr. Kantor and the modern Maccabis seeking to stem the rising tide of antisemitism.