Holocaust survivor warns of ‘plague’ of antisemitism in UK

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A Holocaust survivor warned against the rise of antisemitism in the UK as he attended a memorial at Piccadilly Circus in London.

Candles were lit across the UK at 4pm on Friday in remembrance of victims of the Holocaust and other genocides.

Thirty artworks by young people of someone affected by the Holocaust, genocide, or identity-based persecution were projected onto the digital billboard overlooking the Eros fountain in Piccadilly Circus.

The artworks were selected by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust through its (Extra)Ordinary Portraits competition.

Dr Martin Stern
Dr Martin Stern, a survivor of the Holocaust (James Manning/PA)

A crowd, including survivors, gathered to pay their respects.

Holocaust survivor Dr Martin Stern, 84, arrived in the UK in 1950, living with relatives in Manchester.

He survived the Westerbork transit camp in the Netherlands and the Theresienstadt ghetto in northern Bohemia (now in the Czech Republic) after being taken away by officers at the age of five.

Dr Stern warned against a “plague” of antisemitism in the UK.

“And the danger is that we are leading to a similar catastrophe.

“Remember, the extremists, the populists, claim there is one problem you need to sort out and everything will be wonderful.

“They claim to have a simple answer, and the answer is to kill the Jews and get rid of the Jews.

“In reality they killed opponents, gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, people who were homosexual, people who were disabled in some way, and people for the sin of being Polish. They did not just kill Jews.”

He said he was “very grateful” for his British citizenship.

“Britain gave me a nationality at the age of 16,” he said.

“I didn’t have Dutch nationality even though I was born there.

“I am very grateful to be a British citizen, and I went to a wonderful school – Manchester Grammar School – and an amazing university – Oxford university – where I was trained in physiology and medicine.

“I had the most wonderful education, which still stands to me after I have retired from medicine.”

Holocaust survivor John Hajdu, 85, also attended the memorial.

Asked if he had noticed a rise in antisemitism in recent years, he warned that there are more than 2,000 antisemitic events in the UK every year.

“When I talk to schools, as I do regularly, I mention that there are over 2,000 antisemitic events in this country alone,” he said.

“The antisemitic problem we have all of the time, not just in this country but all over the world.

“That is why I talk to as many people as possible to make sure that people understand that what I went through should never happen again.”

The theme of this year’s memorial is “ordinary people”.

People holding memorial candles at Piccadilly Circus
People holding memorial candles at Piccadilly Circus (James Manning/PA)

“When I was in the yellow star house, my mother was taken away to the concentration camp,” he said.

“I was hidden in the cupboard by a non-Jewish man, an ordinary man.

“If I had not been in that cupboard I would not be here today.”

TV presenter Robert Rinder lit a candle at the memorial.

He said that he was “aware” of a rise in antisemitism in the UK.

“I live in reaching distance of Orthodox Jewish communities,” he said.

Robert Rinder at Piccadilly Circus
Robert Rinder at Piccadilly Circus (James Manning/PA)

“I think and reflect about that. At the same time, I know for sure that communities up and down the country are inclusive of Jewish communities.

“They don’t want to see prejudice of any kind, be it Islamophobia, homophobia, bullying or the undermining of any minority community.”

He sent a message to the young people of Britain, asking them to “be a light in the world”.

“Be courageous, be a light in the world,” he said.

“Young people, whoever you are, Maya Angelou said you can’t practice any of the virtues consistently without courage.

“Have that courage to go into the world and stand up against hate in all of its forms, and never tolerate it.”

Victims of the Holocaust are remembered each year on January 27 – the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp.

The day is also used to remember the millions killed in subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.

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