‘I’ve done the best I can’: Holocaust Centre founder’s message at her own funeral

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‘I’ve done the best I can’: Holocaust Centre founder’s message at her own funeral

Celebrities and survivors among those with kind words for Christian woman who set up Nottinghamshire institution

USC Shoah Foundation director Stephen Smith speaking to his mother Marina about her own funeral
USC Shoah Foundation director Stephen Smith speaking to his mother Marina about her own funeral

Anne Frank’s step-sister Eva Schloss and actress Dame Maureen Lipman have spoken lovingly at the funeral of a Christian woman who played a vital role in the establishment of the UK’s National Holocaust Centre and Museum.

In 1981 Smith, a devoted Methodist, took her sons James and Stephen to Israel, where she acted as a tour guide. It made an impact. They visited Yad Vashem a decade later, then Auschwitz in 1995, and returned with a desire to establish a national UK Holocaust centre.

Marina gave them the land for it. “She lost no time in learning and embracing our new mission,” said James, whose brother recently stepped down as director of the Steven Spielberg-backed USC Shoah Foundation Institute, where Holocaust testimonies are archived.

“We needed a place to build a Holocaust centre and mother had already planned a new building for the site of a meeting hall. She leapt at the chance to donate the site… and threw herself behind our vision.”

He added: “The affinity she felt for the survivors of the Holocaust was clear from the way she embraced their stories, treated them as people, not as artifacts of history.”

Marina’s funeral service was held just 13 miles north of the centre she helped establish, and where she lived in a cottage with her husband, Eddie.

Earlier this year, at an event for the Marina H. Smith Foundation, he son Stephen asked her what she would want said at her funeral. “I’m so pleased that I met so many good people who influenced my life,” she said in a video played to mourners.

“I feel that my life is coming to a conclusion because my work here is completed… I feel I’ve done the best I can, with God’s help, so I’m ready to go and be with Him forever.”

Recounting her first visit to the centre, Schloss – who was joined in speaking by fellow survivor Susan Pollack – said: “I’ve seen many, many [Holocaust] museums. I always end up being extremely depressed when I leave. But this museum was uplifting. It was completely different. That was a very important discovery – that you can make, out of the Holocaust, something for education, for people to learn and to try to change the world.”

Marc Cave, Director of the National Holocaust Centre & Museum said: “In the years to come, the contribution of the Smith family to Holocaust remembrance and learning will become an important story alongside the countless Survivor stories they have brought to the world.

“So it seems entirely fitting that Marina Smith, matriarch of our Museum and confidante to so many survivors, should herself be the subject of this immortalising technology. The Forever Project and its US counterpart NDIT are perhaps the world’s most vital assets with which to future-proof Holocaust education for the post-Survivor era. For this we can all only thank Stephen and Heather.”

Michael Newman, head of the Association of Jewish Refugees, recalled visits to Marina and Eddie’s cottage, describing her as “single-mindedly interested in people, their experiences, reflections, and motivations… a good listener, she would be absorbed in people’s stories”.

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