Pinner Synagogue was packed to capacity – over 350 people – for its annual commemoration of the Holocaust on Wednesday evening 1st May.
The focus was on Poland at the outbreak of World War Two, eighty years ago. Six Jewish survivors, originally from Poland, led a dignified procession into the hall. Only children when the Germans invaded in 1939, they miraculously beat the odds considering that 90% of Polish Jews were annihilated by the Nazis during the war. The Polish survivors lit memorial candles to remember the murder of six million Jews. Teenage members of the synagogue contributed readings and poems at the ceremony.
Guests included the Deputy Mayor and Deputy Mayoress of Harrow, the Ambassador of the Republic of Poland, HE Prof Arkady Rzegocki , the Lithuanian Ambassador and senior diplomats from Germany, Hungary, Lithuania and the Netherlands. Others attending were the Head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in the UK, local politicians and church and school representatives.
In his address the Polish Ambassador recalled the long history and heritage of Jews in Poland over eight centuries prior to 1939. Taking pride in the number of Righteous Gentiles (who helped protect Jews), he also acknowledged the atrocities committed by individual Poles against Jewish neighbours before, during and after the war.
The guest speaker was Lili Stern Pohlmann, who was interviewed by Antony Lishak, the founder of the charity ‘Learning from the Righteous’. With amazing wit and candour she explained how, as a young girl, she was ‘torn from home’ and her family hurriedly fled ‘east’ to the temporary safety of what soon became the Soviet sector. She had the audience spellbound as she told of a daring escape from the Lwow ghetto one snowy night in November 1942.
Unlike many survivor stories, Lili chooses not to focus on family losses and horrors that she experienced—her father and younger brother were murdered in 1942 in a Nazi death camp—but on how remarkable non-Jews heroically saved and protected Lili and her mother, at great risk to themselves. One such lady, a German civil servant named Irmgard Wieth, even allowed Lili to stay in her apartment in an SS-occupied area of Lwow for over a year. Many ordinary Poles chose not to denounce young Lili when they could easily have done so.
Event organiser Gaby Glassman believes that the evening’s importance is growing each year. She explained: “Our social, economic and political circumstances now resemble those of eighty years ago. One group is pitted against another and the danger now, like then, is that the racism that started with the Jews will soon infect the fabric of society as a whole. Events like this aim to stop us sleepwalking into that horror.”
The candle lighters were Helena Kaut-Howson, Henry Margulies, Helen Aronson, Lili Stern Pohlmann, Ralph Lubinsky & Jan Goldberger