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Grief and banality as past meets present (GUARDIAN UK) Stephen Bates 01/28/05)Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/secondworldwar/story/0,14058,1400568,00.html GUARDIAN UK GUARDIAN UK Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
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 vivid still.

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 September.

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 liberate it.

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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