Every day this week, like much of the country, I have been glued to my TV watching the Tokyo Olympics. I have celebrated every time Team GB has won a medal and celebrated every athlete who participated and gave their best. It brings back fond memories of my time competing, but also my road to freedom.
My journey was not an easy one.
At nine years old war broke out and my childhood vanished. At fifteen, I came to the United Kingdom as a refugee. At twenty-six, I had the honour to represent this great country at the 1956 Olympics, and then again in 1960 as Captain of the British Weightlifting Team.
I was born in Piotrkow in 1929, a central Polish city of 55,000 inhabitants, 15,000 of them Jewish like me. In 1939, Nazi Germany invaded and everything changed. My family was forced to move into the ghetto. It was overcrowded and the conditions were unimaginable – there was never enough food, it was filthy, and people were regularly taken away and killed.
It was in the ghetto that I lost my Mother – Sara – and my 8 year old sister Luisa. They were rounded up and murdered in the nearby Rakow forest. I witnessed the deportations to death camps. Eventually, I was sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp in 1944 – all the time I was able to stay with my father but in Buchenwald, we were also separated. I never saw him again and later found out that my father was shot just a few days before liberation.
When I was liberated, I was alone. Ninety percent of the Jewish people from Piotrkow had been killed. I later found out that my father was shot just a few days before liberation.
The British government granted visas for World Jewish Relief to bring 732 child survivors to the UK and I was one of them. We were housed in the Lake District, taught English and treated with kindness. It was there I learnt that my sister Mala had survived. She had been taken from the ghetto and hidden for a while, but in the end, she returned to the ghetto and was sent on to the camps, before finally being liberated in Bergen-Belsen.
I have dedicated much of my adult life to teaching about the horrors of the Holocaust and the importance of our shared humanity. There is a remarkable foundation of Holocaust education and remembrance in this country, and I am proud of that. But, as our Survivor generation passes on, it has fallen on the next generations to take on the baton, and to make sure that the Holocaust and its lessons are never forgotten. That is why the new Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre, is being built right by Parliament is so crucial.
It will be through this this memorial and learning centre that we can ensure that the lessons of the Holocaust are continued to be taught, and that the truth can be protected from those who wish to deny and distort. This place will ensure that the memory of the six million Jewish men, women and children who were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators are never forgotten, and that my story, and the story of my fellow survivors can continue to be told forever.
To know that this will be next to Parliament is the surest sign that Britain will remember.
It was this country who took me in and many other survivors, after liberation. It was here in the UK that we were allowed to rebuild our lives. It was the UK who saved thousands of Jewish children’s lives through the Kindertransport. It was British forces that liberated many of the concentration camps – including my sister at Bergen-Belsen. It is here that I met my wife Arza and brought up my three sons and nine grandchildren.
We, the survivors who have made our home here, are British. My fellow survivors have become academics, dentists, engineers, businessmen. We are part of Britain’s story. And so, it is only right that the United Kingdom has a significant Holocaust Memorial in the heart of Westminster. This sends such a strong signal about the role that democracy can play in keeping society safe and will forever be a reminder of what horrors tyranny can inflict.
I was proud to represent this country in the Olympics and remain proud of this country. I look forward to one day taking my family to the new national memorial and learning centre, telling the story of Britain and the Holocaust. And one day, I hope that my children and grandchildren will take their children and grandchildren, and that they will remember all those who came before them, including my mother Sara, my sister Luisa, and my father Moishe.