Survivors make success
by: Cara Wides - Last updated: 2006-09-01
The Holocaust Survivors Centre in Hendon, north west London, is holding an exhibition on Sunday September 3rd depicting despite their very negative experiences the positive contributions to the British way of life made by survivors.
Called The Contributions of Continental Britons, the exhibition, organised to tie in with European Jewry Day, is designed to move away from the concept of survivors as victims and instead focuses on the achievements of those who came to the UK prior to World War 2 and those who survived in Europe.
We wanted to explore their post-war lives: our brief was to look at the contribution these people made to British life, to show how much they achieved, and how they triumphed over adversity, said project co-ordinator, Yael Lackmaker.
Contemporary photographs for the exhibition were taken by volunteer, Dr Jeffery Graham. Also involved in the project was the Centres Joint Co-Ordinator, Rachelle Lazarus, who was delighted to observe how the families enjoyed getting involved in the project and learning about their relatives. It proved to be very interesting for the descendants, said Rachelle, once they sat down with the older generation and talked about things they really learned a lot.
Even though the stories that emerged were not gloomy ones, there were clearly obstacles to overcome on arrival in the U.K. When they came here they had to start again and learn the language, said Yael, many of them had no family and no material possessions. Rachelle added, when questioned about weddings, this was potentially sad because often the case was that they had no family left to attend a wedding.
Eight members of the Centre are featured in the exhibition and their diverse stories explore how they met and married their partners and their career paths.
One member became a teacher of refugee children; one became a sculptor and examples of his artwork are included; one became a jeweller and the family have found moulds and pieces of jewellery. Other contributions include a fur coat, baby photos, a suit of clothes and a recipe for krupnik (barley) soup. One of the contributors picked up on the habitual way her relative lays a place at the table, so a place setting has been recreated for the exhibition, complete with plate and cutlery in their specific places.
Historian Sir Martin Gilbert, when writing about The Boys (a group of 732 young survivors who came to England) said that they were always on the margins of society and no-one expected them to amount to much. This exhibition is a small part of a huge body of evidence out there that proves these low expectations were unfounded.
The Contributions of Continental Britons teaches us that the term survivor doesnt define a person, because their lives were more than their wartime experiences. As Centre Director Judith Hassan sees it, it is important to know how society can be enriched through the integration of people from diverse backgrounds and experiences. This exhibition is an example of how it can be done.
The exhibition is at the Holocaust Survivors' Centre in Hendon, on Sunday 3rd September. For more information contact the centre on 020 8202 9844.