British Prime Minister Cameron ‘proud’ to meet survivor

The Jewish Chronicle (UK)    January 26, 2012

In the week of Holocaust Memorial Day, David Cameron has praised one of the best-known Shoah survivors for passing on his story.

Mr Cameron and deputy PM Nick Clegg hosted a group from the Holocaust Educational Trust in Downing Street on Tuesday to witness their signing of the HET’s Book of Commitment, in which politicians record their thoughts on preserving the memory of the Shoah and combating prejudice in general.

The HET party included Ben Helfgott, who survived Theresienstadt and Buchenwald and went on to become a British weightlifting champion and Olympian. “I am very proud to be with you,” Mr Cameron said.

David Cameron with Ben Helfgott, Sam Tuck, Georgia Evans and Lucy Johnstone

Having discussed the national weightlifting squad’s prospects for London 2012 with the Prime Minister, Mr Helfgott presented him with a copy of Sir Martin Gilbert’s book, The Boys, relating the experiences of teenage survivors who came to Britain after the war.

Thanking him, Mr Cameron promised: “I’ll make sure my children read it, too.” Mr Clegg also requested a copy of the book, which Mr Helfgott will be forwarding.

“I couldn’t think of anything better to give Mr Cameron than the story of the survivors who came here,” Mr Helfgott explained. “We are an example of people who suffered more than you can imagine but didn’t hold a grudge against others and got on with our lives.”

He was “very touched” that Mr Cameron wanted his children to read The Boys. “It is good to know that the Prime Minister and deputy Prime Minister feel that way.”

Also among the HET group were Sam Tuck, Georgia Evans and Lucy Johnstone, three of its student ambassadors from its Lessons from Auschwitz programme. The trio – past and present pupils of a Peterborough school – have been instrumental in a Pledge Against Prejudice campaign.

Sam told Mr Clegg that, when the English Defence League organised a local march, “it was really important to do our bit and say: ‘No, we are not going to stand for this.’ So we had a concert to which all the community were invited where bands were playing mixing different musical cultures.”

The young ambassadors have also helped stage this year’s Peterborough HMD event, Evening of Expression, celebrating diversity and freedom. Speaking afterwards, Sam said visiting Auschwitz had “completely changed the way we look at life. It puts everything into perspective. Seeing how horrific the Holocaust was makes us realise how lucky we are. When we came back, we wanted to make a difference.”

The PM signs the Book of Commitment

In his Book of Commitment message, Mr Cameron wrote: “With each year that passes since the end of the Holocaust, we have a greater responsibility than ever to remember the dreadful events that took place. By learning from history, we must pledge that nothing like this ever happens again.”

Referring to the Speak Up, Speak Out theme of this year’s HMD, Mr Clegg wrote that “the need to remind the world of the darkest chapter in our common history becomes all the more acute – because to forget is to risk a repeat of history.”

The 150-plus signatories to date also include Labour leader Ed Miliband, whose message was that “we owe it to all those who perished to remember and speak up against antisemitism”.


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