Grief and banality as past meets present (GUARDIAN UK) Stephen Bates 01/28/05)
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The renowned Jewish wartime diarist Anne Frank used to collect
pictures of the young Princess Elizabeth with her friend Hannah.
Yesterday, Queen Elizabeth led 1,000 Holocaust survivors in an hour-
long service in London in memory of the millions, including Anne, who
died in the Nazi death camps.
Silence fell as a sea of yarmulkas and trilby hats took their places
below the medieval roof of Westminster Hall, to honour the memory of
those killed by the Nazis.
Hard to imagine that many hundreds of those in the hall had survived
the death camps in which 6 million died. Auschwitz, Belsen: the black
and white newsreel film and photographs projected on to the walls of
the hall and large screens within it were not history to them, but
Even the Queen, grave in black and escorted to her chair by Gena
Turgel, of Stanmore, an 82-year-old survivor of the gas chambers, was
a part of their memories.
Anne Frank, the congregation was reminded by one of her friends,
Hannah Pick, had collected pictures of the young English princess in
her family´s flat in Amsterdam. The Queen is a couple of years older
than Anne Frank would have been, had she lived.
Hannah, who had lived next door and who Anne imagined in her diary
dying and crying out for help, survived Belsen, where her friend died
in the last days of the war, and now lives in Israel. She collected
the princess´s picture too, she confided "but I swapped mine for
Prince Gustav of Sweden."
The service mixed profound religious reflection with incongruous
banality. The song of the afflicted, El Malei Rachamim, was sung by a
cantor and a new oratorio, Annelies, which is based on the life of
Anne Frank, received its first performance. A cellist played a Jewish
folk tune, a gypsy ensemble - practically the only concession that
other groups also died - also played and the names of some of the
dead were intoned by teenage grandchildren of survivors.
But there were also the reminiscences of the England foot-ball coach,
Sven-Goran Eriksson, who was called to speak because he had taken his
squad to visit Auschwitz before their game with Poland last
It was, said Mr Eriksson, "like nowhere I have ever seen before ...
you had a very, very strange feeling. Our visit was a reminder of
what´s really important in life."
Tony Blair, back from the World Economic Forum in Davos, said that
prejudice must be challenged. "We must pledge ourselves to confront
such prejudice wherever it seeks to disfigure our community and we
must remember above all that the Holocaust did not start with a
concentration camp. It started with a brick through the window of a
Jewish business, the desecration of a synagogue, the shout of racist
abuse on the street."
Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, described the Holocaust as the
greatest crime of man against man: "Ever since, we have known that a
world that has no space for difference has no space for humanity ...
We can´t change the past, but each of us, by challenging prejudice
and intolerance can help change the future."
Then the Queen led survivors and their children in lighting 60
candles, one for every year since the camps´ liberation.
The first was lit by a flame originally ignited on the site of
Belsen. It was carried through the hall by Susan Pollack, who had
been freed from the camp as a 15-year-old, and Major Dick Williams
who had been, at the age of 24, one of the first British officers to
At the end, another Belsen survivor, Paul Oppenheimer, now living in
Birmingham, told of his pride in coming to Britain, becoming an
engineer and being awarded an MBE.
"What more could I want? I am so proud to be British. I will forever
be grateful to the British people," he said. (Guardian Unlimited ©
Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004 01/28/05)
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