Power of words evoked for Holocaust Memorial Day

The words of poet, author and concentration camp survivor Gerty Spies, who died in Munich aged 100, were evoked at a Holocaust Memorial Day event hosted by the Wiener Library archive, in Russell Square.

The sold-out event, organised jointly by the Wiener Library and Camden Council, featured readings of Gerty’s poems and a talk from a translator of her work, 92-year-old Bea Green, who escaped to the UK from Nazi Germany on the Kindertransport when she was 14.

Unlike Gerty, Bea never returned to Germany, and she became a British citizen. At the event last Thursday (25 January), Bea recalled a vivid childhood memory of her father being badly beaten by Hitler’s SA, also known as ‘brown shirts’, and then being forced to walk barefoot through the streets of Munich because he was Jewish.

After escaping Nazi Germany on the Kindertransport, Bea said she was determined to master the English language and discovered a love for it, which led to her becoming a leading translator of German into English.

Other speakers at the event included Ben Barkow and Dr Toby Simpson, from the Wiener Library, Rabbi Shlomo Levin, of South Hampstead Synagogue, and Saba Asif, Camden’s Deputy Youth MP who read two of Gerty’s poems in English.

Saba said the poems made her feel “melancholic but at the same time hopeful for the future”. The Mayor of Camden also spoke at the event.

Thank you to the Wiener Library and to everybody involved in organising this event when we remember the millions of victims of the Holocaust and subsequent genocides. At the end of World War Two the international community said ‘never again’, yet there have been further genocides in Biafra, Darfur, Sudan, Bosnia and we currently see the persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.
The national theme of Holocaust Memorial Day 2018 was the power of words, which can make a difference both for good and for evil. Once you call people ‘vermin’ and ‘lice’, as the Nazis called the Jews, it becomes much easier to murder them. We all have a responsibility to ensure that our society remains a tolerant one based on mutual respect. If we all do our bit, then maybe, just maybe, when a future generation says ‘never again’ it really will mean ‘never again’.
Councillor Richard Cotton, Mayor of Camden

Last Monday (22 January), the Jewish Museum, in Albert Street, Camden, also collaborated with Camden Council for another event to commemorate the Holocaust.

At the sold-out evening held at the museum, Holocaust survivor, Bernd Koschland shared his moving story and spoke of his experiences living under Nazi rule and of the Kindertransport.

Alongside the talk, the 100 guests had the chance to see an exhibition of photographs by Harry Borden from his book, Survivor: A Portrait of the Survivors of the Holocaust.

Guests joined a question and answer session with Bernd Koschland and Harry Borden and the Mayor, Councillor Richard Cotton, also spoke alongside the Jewish Museum’s Chief Executive, Abigail Morris.

At the end of each event, a commemorative candle was lit and guests were invited to take a few moments for quiet reflection on the lessons of the Holocaust.

Find out more:

  • The Wiener Library is one of the world's leading and most extensive archives on the Holocaust and Nazi era. Formed in 1933, the Library's unique collection of over one million items includes published and unpublished works, press cuttings, photographs and eyewitness testimony. You can find out more about Bea’s story here
  • The Jewish Museum collects, preserves, interprets and exhibits material relating to Jewish history, culture and religious life. They draw on the Jewish experience as a focus for the exploration of identity and heritage in a multicultural society, actively engaging with the shared experiences represented in the diverse cultural heritage of London, Britain and the wider world. You can find out more about Bernd Koschland's story here