‘’My family had lived in the same house, in the same town for three generations. Suddenly we were told to pack up, forced to wear Jewish stars and sent to Bergen-Belsen, a Nazi concentration camp.”
Seventy years on from the liberation of Auschwitz, residents of Hackney will stand in commemoration of those murdered during Nazi persecution. Amongst them, Miriam and Alfie Buechler, two of the remaining Holocaust survivors.
Alfie Buechler, 90, was rescued from Germany as part of the Kindertransport programme, whilst Miriam, 78, survived two Nazi camps, following the occupation of Holland in 1942. They met and married in England in 1955.
“Although we both survived the war, almost all of our immediate and extended family were murdered,” said Alfie. “My mother put me on the train to England, when I was just eight years old and I never saw her again. I presume she was killed in Auschwitz. I’ve been to all the museums, but I can’t find a trace of her.
“We are among the last survivors and one day soon, we will be gone. I am scared that the Holocaust will be forgotten. We would all like to think that anti-Semitism burnt out in the ovens of Auschwitz-Birkenau, but history has a habit of adapting and returning when conditions suit. “
Recent figures from the Metropolitan Police reported earlier this month mirror Buechler’s beliefs: hate crimes in Hackney have increased by 87 per cent in the last year. One frequently targeted area is Stamford Hill, home to 30,000 Jews and one of the largest Orthodox Jewish communities in Europe. Residents here are known to include a number of Holocaust survivors and their descendants.
Rabbi Herschel Gluck, President of the Jewish neighbourhood watch group Shomrim, which is based in Hackney, told East London Lines: “Sadly there has been a more negative attitude towards minorities and in certain quarters a greater tolerance regarding this [behaviour]. This has led to certain people thinking that they can get away with behaving negatively towards Jewish people.
“For the Hackney Jewish Community, every single day is Holocaust memorial day, bearing in mind the number of survivors and successor communities to those that the Nazis thought they had destroyed.”
The theme of Holocaust Memorial Day 2016 is ‘Don’t Stand by.’ Some believe the discussion of the Holocaust is more important than ever, drawing attention to the consequences of hatred and the cultural milieu in which genocide can take place.
“In a world of escalating conflict and dire abuses, it is crucial that we remember the horrors of our past,” said Diane Abbot, MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington.
She continued: “We must do all in our power to press for peace, equality, rights and lasting freedom for all. On this day, as we must stand united in a promise that says ‘never again.’”
However, there is growing concern that for children in particular, the Holocaust has become a historical event, with the younger generation drawing no real connection to the atrocity.
“My grandchildren don’t ask us about our experience,” said Miriam. “To them, it is history, not memory, and that is far easier to detach from.”
Hannah Myserson, a spokesperson from World Jewish Relief, the leading UK Jewish international agency shares Miriam’s concern: “I think there is a worry that once those who survived die out, the Holocaust will seem less pertinent to those hearing about it.
“Hearing accounts from people who personally experienced such horrific events means that it becomes impossible to ignore, as opposed to a historical event that we struggle to connect with.”
The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust estimates that there are now fewer than 5,000 survivors left in the UK, and stress the urgency of commemorating the Holocaust, to ensure it is not an event consigned to history.
“We’re fortunate here in the UK: We are not at risk of genocide,” said Mark Harrison, from the Holocaust Memorial Trust. “As the number of survivors reduces, Holocaust Memorial Day becomes ever more important. Discrimination has not ended, nor has the use of the language of hatred and exclusion. There is still much to do to create a safer future.”