Manchester mayor says meeting Holocaust survivors is biggest honour of his job

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Manchester mayor says meeting Holocaust survivors is biggest honour of his job

Andy Burnham tours Jewish News inspired exhibition, Generations: Portraits of Survivors at Imperial War Museum North, ahead of Holocaust Memorial Day 2023

Manchester-based Holocaust survivors Ruth and Werner Lachs
Manchester-based Holocaust survivors Ruth and Werner Lachs

Andy Burnham has described getting to know Holocaust survivors as “one of my greatest privileges” as mayor of Greater Manchester as he toured a new exhibition of poignant photographs of them and their families. 

The former cabinet minister met six camp survivors and refugees from the Nazis now living in the north west at the media launch of Generations: Portraits of Survivors at Imperial War Museum North.

The exhibition first opened at the museum’s sister site in London in 2021 as part of a project involving the Royal Photographic Society, Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, Dangoor Education and Jewish News, which initiated the project by asking the now Princess of Wales to take the first two photos. After Manchester-based The Fed joined the project, an additional four images were added to the existing 55, ahead of the opening of the exhibition in the city on Friday.

Holocaust survivor Marianne Philipps

“I consider it one of the greatest privileges I’ve had as mayor to get to know Ike and Tomi and others. I was with Ike before Christmas at a school and the pupils were listening to every word. The survivors have the life force. They are full of humour, humanity and positivity because in the end they’ve prevailed. They are an inspiration to us all.” More than any politician, he suggested, they should be listened to as they have a message for today about tackling prejudice.”

Describing the exhibition as “immensely” powerful, he added: “People hear the shocking numbers – six million Jewish people – and it’s heard to take in. You come here and it’s personalising. We hear the phrase lessons must be learned. I’d say they need to be relearned.

“I would ask everyone to come here. There’s something affirming about seeing them surrounded by their families. There’s  something quite positive about it.” He also recalled how the region had a strong history of provided safe haven to Jews fleeing the Nazis and other groups in need of sanctuary.

The mayor spent around 30 minutes speaking in depth with the survivors featured in the new photographs and Hungary-born Tomi Konoly, the only local including in the original exhibition.

One stunning image shows married couple Werner Lachs, 96 and his wife Ruth, 86 with their three grandchildren and a lit menorah. Both lost extended family in the Holocaust but Werner’s family escaped Germany thanks to an MI6 agent and Ruth was hidden by sympathisers, but her younger brother was murdered in Auschwitz.

The latter said: “It won’t be forgotten the terrible times we had with the Nazis and we hope it never happens again. It’s a reminder to people have had children, made a decent life after the war for themselves. We got settled, had a family and thank goodness we have nine grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.”

Holocaust survivor Ike Alterman

All the new images are taken by RPS President Simon Hill. He pictured Kindertransportee Marianne Phillips with her two children and two grandchildren and hidden child Anne Super with her son and grandchildren. Warsaw-born Anne – who was saved by a milk woman after her mother pushed her through a hedge when the family was marched from their homes in 1941 – described the exhibition as “wonderful” and hoped it would inspire others to learn more about the story of those featured.

Her story his among 34 published as part of The Fed’s My Voice project. The organisation’s Raphi Bloom, who approached Jewish News about adding local survivor portraits to the project last year, accompanied 95-year-old Ike Alterman, another star of the show who is the only remaining camp survivor in Manchester who continues to travel the region telling his story.

Having only started speaking to school group and football clubs about his experiences five years ago, the Auschwitz survivor said passing on the memory was the most important thing he can now do. “It’s amazing the number of people who haven’t known anything. They are so grateful to have listened, to learn about my story and take it upon themselves to tell colleagues and families.”

Hill said: “This is one of the most imports jobs I’ve done. Certainly one of those I’ve enjoyed most. To meet the survivors has been an incredible honour.

Holocaust survivor Ann Super

I hope the exhibition moves on and takes everyone’s story with it to new venues. Photography enables us to extend lives. I hope it opens up an aspect of Jewish heritage to non-Jews. I’m not Jewish but it’s given me insight into Jewish history and traditions.”

He added: “Everyone here was an immigrant to Britain and Britain is so much richer by having then here.”

Jewish News’ Justin Cohen, who initiated the Generations project, said: “In the wake of the United Arab Emirates’ historic decision to include Holocaust education in their curriculum for school children, my ultimate goal would be to see the exhibition in that country and wider parts of the Arab world.”

Generations: Portraits Of Holocaust Survivors is a free exhibition opening at IWM North on January 27 and running until summer 2023.

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