91-year old Holocaust survivor Ivor Perl BEM has documented his life in a new book ‘Chicken Soup Under the Tree’.
After many requests, Perl wrote the memoir of his experiences of survival for his family. In 2016, he received the honour of a British Empire Medal in recognition of his services to Holocaust education; now, he is sharing his story for future generations to understand and to remember the tragedies of the Holocaust.
Perl, who has been a member of Jewish Care’s Holocaust Survivors Centre for many years and is a tenant at Jewish Care’s Selig Court retirement living apartments, has chosen to donate £1 of every book sale to Jewish Care.
In ‘Chicken Soup Under the Tree’, Ivor recounts his happy childhood growing up in a warm and loving family in Mako, Hungary. Born 4 February 1932, Ivor grew up in the bungalow his parents built, as part of a family of eleven.
Ivor dedicates his book “to the loving memory of my family. My father, mother, my eldest brother David, my sister Raizel, brother Mordechai, sisters Blume and Malka, my little brother, Moishe and, last in the family, my little golden-haired sister Faigale, all of whom perished in the Holocaust.
The Nazis invaded Hungry in April 1944 and forced the Jews to move to the ghetto. From there, they were transported on cattle trucks to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland, where Ivor was known as number 112021. Enduring starvation, forced labour and cruelty, he was separated from his parents and all of his siblings, with the exception of his older brother Alec.
The two boys were forced on the 500 mile death march to Kaufering and Dachau concentration camps in Germany. Ivor says in his book: “Alec was not only my best friend but also the man who saved me from certain death many times. I owe everything to him, because without him I would not be here today.”
The brothers saw the opportunity to escape in early May 1945 with the arrival of the Allied bombings of the camp. Ivor recalls stories of suffering and cruelty and later the pain of discovering that almost all of his family had been murdered, with only he and Alec surviving.
After liberation and rehabilitation, Ivor and Alec travelled to England to begin to rebuild their lives. For Ivor, this meant finding love with his late wife Rhoda, who sadly passed away in January 2016, after living with dementia. Alec has also passed away.
Ivor also dedicates the book to, “my dearest wife Rhoda, who gave me a family in England and whose love nurtured me from a scared boy into a resilient man. This book only came about because of her guidance and support.”
In the emotional epilogue, Ivor adds: “I came with nothing and worked very hard to create a loving and fruitful life for my wife and children. I celebrated my 90th birthday last year with my four children, six grandchildren and five. Please G-d, I hope to continue (for myself, my family and loved ones) to always be blessed with health and happiness.”
Ivor’s family, friends and fellow members of Jewish Care’s Holocaust Survivors’ Centre were there to support him to mark the publication of the book.
Jewish Care Life President, Lord Levy said: “Ivor is an inspiration to us all. He has been through tragedy and survived. He has made a wonderful life here for his family and has put his history and his life down in this book for them, so that they and many other young people for generations to come, understand and learn what Holocaust survivors and the Jewish people went through in the Holocaust.”
The event was also attended by Lord Pickles, UK Special Envoy for Post-Holocaust issues who addressed guests; Daniel Carmel-Brown, CEO of Jewish Care, Rachel Riley MBE, recently awarded her honour for campaigning against antisemitism, Karen Pollock CBE CEO, Holocaust Education Trust, Michael Newman OBE, CEO AJR and Frances Segelman, who has sculpted Ivor as well as headteachers of schools that Ivor has visited.
At the launch, Ivor thanked everyone for their ‘love and affection’ and one of his granddaughters, Lia Bratt, spoke about her close relationship with Ivor, her Papa, and her role in Holocaust education as part of the third generation.
Bratt said: “In 2018 it all changed for me when I visited Auschwitz with my Papa and my mum Judy. Standing by the railway tracks where my family once walked, I couldn’t contain my tears, feeling the weight of their history and pain on my shoulders, I’ve never felt such a mixture of emotions. This trip opened my eyes and ignited a fire inside of me to want to carry forward my Papa’s legacy in Holocaust education and to spread the message of ‘Chicken Soup Under the Tree’ to the world.”
“My papa is my forever hero and anyone who knows me knows how much I love and adore him. This special bond that we have created will forever hold a very special place in my heart but I know that he won’t always be with me to share his story and it scares me to my core knowing that there are Holocaust deniers today and people who aren’t aware of the Holocaust and antisemitism. I feel it is my duty to ensure that the lessons in history and his story are never forgotten.
It took Ivor 50 years to start to tell his story; he was reluctant to open up until the shul where he was a warden, asked him to speak for the first time at a remembrance event. Since then he has given over a hundred talks to schools, football clubs and many large organisations about his experiences. He returned, years later to the concentration camps with his family and to revisit his roots in Mako.
Speaking at the event, Lord Pickles, UK Envoy for Post-Holocaust Studies, said: “Ivor Perl changed my life and the way I thought about things; he had a profound and lasting effect on how I see the Holocaust. Next year, the UK will host the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and we will look at what created the conditions that made it possible for the Holocaust to happen.
“The theme will be, in Ivor’s words ‘in plain sight’ because as he told me, standing together when we visited the Nazi concentration camp, Auschwitz, many years after he had been a prisoner there, ‘the Holocaust did not happen in dark corners hidden away. The Holocaust happened in broad daylight, in plain sight – with the world watching.’”
Copies of ‘CHICKEN SOUP UNDER THE TREE ‘can be ordered here.
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