Rob Rinder says the loss of Holocaust survivor and educator Sir Ben Helfgott at the age of 93 is “incalculable”.
Speaking to Jewish News from Venice, Rinder pays tribute to a man who survived the Shoah and represented Britain at the Olympics within years of his liberation from the Nazi camps.
As part of the BBC series ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’, the 45-year-old, better known to audiences as TV personality Judge Rinder, travelled to Poland and Germany in 2018 to discover more about his maternal grandfather Morris Malenicky, whose parents and five siblings were killed at Treblinka.
Sir Ben Helfgott was a close friend of his grandfather and he and Rinder met for the first time at Schlieben, a sub-camp of Buchenwald where both men were forced to endure hard labour.
“Ben’s loss to the world is incalculable,” Rinder tells Jewish News. “He taught me and limitless others something the victims of that tyranny are only able to tell us. Whatever horrors of the past, that we have within us the capacity, the soul, the neshamah, to rise above even the worst suffering imaginable and live lives of optimism, joy and simcha.
“His story of survival alongside my grandfather taught me personally more than anybody that I know, that humankind shares an obligation to teach the world to stand up to hate in all of its forms, wherever it is. His memory and legacy must live in each and every one of us.”
Helfgott was a founder member and president of the 45 Aid Society, a charitable organisation set up in 1963 by a group of 732 orphaned child survivors of the Nazi concentration camps. Known as ‘The Boys’, they were brought to Britain after liberation in 1945. Malenicky was a member and his daughter, Rob Rinder’s mother, Angela Cohen is chair.
Speaking to Jewish News, Cohen says: “It’s incredibly, incredibly sad. It feels like the end of an era. And that’s exactly what it is. There’s something quite wonderful being able to talk about Ben. He opened the door for people to talk about Holocaust education.
“He made everyone, everyone just feel so special, regardless of colour, religion or creed. He just saw good in people and connected with them.
“My heart is breaking because it is such an incredible loss of such an incredible human being.
“It is because of him that I chair the 45 Society. I’m wearing that hat, but I’m also wearing the hat of someone who loved him with all my heart.”
“Ben had no ego. He loved people. He understood people. He listened. Genuinely learned from everybody. It didn’t matter if you were a prince or pauper; he treated them with respect, with kavod. That on its own shows the great thing about Ben Helfgott. He was never a victim. He was always a survivor.”
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