OPINION: Sir Ben loved Britain, he loved life and, despite the cruelty he faced, he loved people

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OPINION: Sir Ben loved Britain, he loved life and, despite the cruelty he faced, he loved people

Sir Mick Davis reflects on his friendship with Sir Ben Helfgott, who he first met in 2014 when chairing the Prime Minister’s Holocaust Commission.

Ben Helfgott marks Yom HaShoah in Hyde Park.
Ben Helfgott marks Yom HaShoah in Hyde Park.

Sir Ben Helfgott was, as one tribute put it, “small in stature but a giant of a man”.

I first met Ben in 2014 through the Prime Minister’s Holocaust Commission I chaired and he made an immediate impression, a softly spoken gentle man who exuded strength of both body and soul. A champion weightlifter, Ben did so much of the heavy lifting to ensure that the stories of survivors are never forgotten and the lessons of the Shoah passed on for future generations.

In the years that passed I was privileged to be able to call him not only an inspiration but a friend. He was courageous, resolute and focused but never bitter. He took on enormous responsibility on the part of his fellow survivors that he made seem effortless but, given the trauma of his own experience, must have been anything but.

Community leader Sir Mick Davis

He had and shared with others total clarity regarding both the universal lessons of the Holocaust on the one hand and its uniqueness on the other. He was determined that the nature of the Holocaust must never be watered down by equating other atrocities, however awful, with its particular and unique horror. While all genocides share factors that enable the inhumanity and destruction to take place, none mirror the industrial scale with which a people were eliminated simply for existing.

We send our love and condolences to his family and we thank them, for sharing this diminutive, strong, gentle giant of a man with us all, for the greater good of our society.

His commitment to its victims remained steadfast, always striving to ensure that Holocaust commemoration and education was never diluted and its lessons, both universal and particular, learnt and internalised.

He was from the beginning supportive of the proposed Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre while remaining cautious and vigilant that its content must do justice to the memory of victims and survivors. It was a privilege, both inspirational and humbling,  to work with him and his support was invaluable.

He loved his community, loved Britain and, despite all the cruelty he endured in his youth, loved people. Ben Helfgott survived the horrors of the Holocaust and our world is a richer, kinder place because of it. Long may we learn the lessons that he taught.

We send our love and condolences to his family and we thank them, for sharing this diminutive, strong, gentle giant of a man with us all, for the greater good of our society.

He may no longer be with us but his kindness, resilience and decency – the decision he made “not to hate” and his tireless efforts to encourage others to do the same will inspire all of us forever.

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