Pinner Synagogue’s 27th Yom Hashoah (Holocaust) commemoration was an outstanding success this week, as judged by an appreciative, capacity audience from across the spectrum of the community. Honorary Alderman Mr Keith Toms, representing the Mayor of Harrow who was indisposed and other civic leaders attended as well as diplomatic representatives, including the Ambassador of Poland, HE Mr Witold Sobków, and the Chargé d’Affaires of the Rumanian Embassy, Mr Cosmin Onisii. .
The event, on May 4th, began with a moving candle lighting ceremony with six survivors who as children endured years in hiding in France during WWII, lighting six memorial candles assisted by teenage members of the synagogue. Each candle commemorated one million of those who did not survive.
The guest speaker Eva Mendelsson, a child survivor, was born in Germany in 1931, the youngest of three daughters. On Kristallnacht her father was arrested and sent to Dachau. He was released six weeks later on condition that he left Germany immediately without his family.
In 1940, as part of the Wagner-Bürckel transport, Eva, her sister Myriam and their mother Sylvia were deported ‘west’ with other Baden Jews, to Gurs internment camp in South-West France and from there to Rivesaltes. The girls were rescued by OSE (OEuvre de Secours aux Enfants). Sylvia was deported and murdered at Auschwitz, aged 38. In 1945 the two sisters were reunited with their father in England.
“I felt I had a duty to speak for all those who are no longer here,” she explains.
“I know I can reach a great number of children and adults by just telling them what the Germans did and hope it will never happen again.
“My message is to have courage to stand up for your convictions and to never be a ‘Mitlaufer’, someone who just follows evil deeds.”
Event organiser Gaby Glassman believes that the evening served a dual purpose.
“The aim of the event was to provide a survivor with the opportunity to bear witness for those who did not survive, while for the people in the audience the purpose was to learn the lessons from those years: This means not just to remember what happened but also to stand up and oppose racial and religious prejudice and hatred wherever and whenever they occur,” she tells us.
“Soon the Holocaust will be history not memory, which is why survivors like Eva are welcomed to Pinner so that their messages can be communicated and passed down as widely as possible and to succeeding generations.”
And the poignancy of the evening was palpable, as participant Councillor Macleod-Cullinane recalls.
“I have attended for the last few years and always find it a most moving experience and one of the most important events in our Civic Year – we must not forget the monstrous evil that was perpetrated, we must cherish those who survived and we must all strive together to prevent any repetition of those terrible acts befalling any peoples anywhere in our world.”