Leo Baeck Lodge – Historical Events
THE LEO BAECK LODGE COMMEMORATES HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL DAY
Report by Valerie Bello
It was a cold, miserable, wet night but, as Alex Faiman, President of the Leo Baeck Lodge reminded the large audience gathered together to mark the Lodge’s Holocaust Memorial Event, the weather could not be compared with the dreadful conditions which had to be endured by prisoners in the concentration camps. This annual event, held in conjunction with the Imperial War Museum, is especially poignant, as so many of the Lodge’s members themselves fled from the Continent to escape Nazi persecution.
(L -R) Alex Faiman, Suzanne Bardgett, Harry Spiro and Rabbi Harry Jacobi
Lodge Monitor, Richard Fisher, opened the evening with the lighting of six candles, each representing one million of those who had perished, followed by a minute’s silence, movingly broken by the recitation of El Molé Rachamim by Rabbi Harry Jacobi and the beautiful singing of Psalm 121 – “I lift up my eyes to the hills” by the Belsize Square Synagogue Choir, under its conductor, Ben Wolf.
Richard Fisher lights the memorial candles
Holocaust survivor, Harry Spiro, held the audience in rapt attention as he recounted his story: Born in Piotrkow, which in October 1939 became the first ghetto set up by the Nazis in Poland, and with his father, a tailor, having no work on the outbreak of war, Harry, though only 10, became responsible for finding food for his mother, father and sister. This came to a halt when the Germans spotted other Jewish children also smuggling food from the villages to the ghetto and shot a couple of them. Instead Harry found a job in a glass factory, having lied about his age. Eventually the Nazis decided to liquidate the ghetto but demanded that all those who worked in the glass factory assemble in the town square. Harry’s mother insisted he should go to the square – a decision which saved his life – but, sadly, the rest of his family were murdered at Treblinka.
Harry continued to work in the factory until the Russian advance forced the workers to move to Reinsdorf labour camp, where they made bullets. Towards the end of the war the Nazis herded 3000 prisoners onto the ‘death march’ from Reinsdorf to Theresienstadt, out of which only 300 survived. Having reached Theresienstadt, Harry collapsed, waking up to find the Russians had arrived. After the war, Harry became one of the 732 young survivors known as ‘the Boys’, who were taken to the Lake District to learn to rebuild their lives – as indeed most of them did and have subsequently given back so much to the society into which they became integrated, Harry himself being a prime example.
Introduced by Betty Trompeter, Treasurer of the Leo Baeck Lodge Trust Fund, Suzanne Bardgett, Project Director of the Imperial War Museum and a great friend of the Lodge, paid a fulsome tribute to the outstanding work done by Peter and Lily Hart who had laid the foundations of the support given by the Lodge to the Museum. She added that preparations were now under way for the August opening of the exhibition commemorating the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War. She concluded by mentioning next year’s International Holocaust Memorial Day, 27th January 2015, coinciding with the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
Belsize Square Synagogue Choir
The choir, which had sung traditional songs between presentations, ended with a deeply moving rendition of ‘Ani, Ani’, ‘I believe, I believe’, with its message of faith and hope, quoted by Henry Grunwald, Vice President of the Lodge, in his vote of thanks, in which he endorsed the tribute paid to Peter and Lily Hart by Suzanne Bardgett, whom he thanked for her address and for all her work in connection with the Holocaust. He concluded by expressing his appreciation to the Government for having held a reception for communal leaders at 10 Downing Street to mark Holocaust Memorial Day – an official signal that the lessons of the Holocaust should never be forgotten.