Young students from Fortismere School came to Muswell Hill Synagogue for Holocaust Memorial Day. Rabbi Mason welcomed them. I spoke to them about the current relevance of the Holocaust – about how hatred and discrimination goes on day in day out – even in our playgrounds. And how, when you hear anyone say something derogatory and disgusting about others – be that about being gay, disabled, black, whatever – if you didn’t speak up then you are complicit. And how important this is – and how – under pressure, a whole nation can change and become frightened into silence virtually.
Then came Joan Salter, whose own children had gone to Fortismere, and whose name was changed long ago by the American family she was placed with after the war. Whenever you hear a Holocaust Survivor’s story – you are moved to tears and you cannot believe man’s inhumanity to man.
Joan’s story was a bit different. For a start – she, her half-sister and both her mother and father survived the Holocaust – just. The tale is one of fear, hiding, danger, hardship, separation and endurance. But shining out in that story of survival really against all odds and a journey from Poland, to Paris, to Belgium, to Spain, to Portugal and to the USA, are those in those countries who risked their lives to shelter, hide, feed or help the individuals in this family.
They did risk their own lives to speak out and say that what Hitler was doing was hideous, evil and despite danger to their own lives, they would not be cowed and frightened and complicit – but stood full square to help those Jews that they could.
A wonderful story – and I have no doubt that the Fortismere students who heard it – will remember the lesson that is taught by the example of this one brave survivor.
A huge thank you to Tamara Broido and the Muswell Hill Holocaust Memorial Day Committee, Rabbi Mason and all who made this really valuable event possible.