Marina Smith, of Britain’s most respected Holocaust educators who received an MBE for her inspirational work has died, aged 87.
Marina, wife for 58 years to Methodist minister Rev Eddie Smith, was the co-founder and first education director of the National Holocaust Centre and Museum in Nottinghamshire, Beth Shalom.
She launched the centre with her two sons, James and Stephen Smith, after the family had paid a visit to Israel. Born in Kolkata, India, the former Marina Fleming became a teacher before her marriage to Eddie Smith.
Her sons say that “she dedicated her time to service in the small industrial towns in which they were posted”. Later, Marina and Eddie ran their own charity and community church which supported those in need in underserved communities in the UK and around the globe. In particular she ran a series of charitable projects in Poland (1981-83), India (1985-1992) and Kosovo (1999).
The Smiths had founded a small Christian retreat in 1978 to serve society in a broader way. As devout Christians, they took their two teenage sons to visit Israel. A decade later, when they came to discuss the need for British society to face the truth of the Holocaust, the family determined that they would dedicate the former retreat as a place of memorial and education about the Holocaust.
As a one-time teacher of religious education, Marina Smith was perfectly placed to design the education programming at Beth Shalom, encouraging children from all over the UK to meet and talk to Holocaust survivors, and developing a singular speakers’ programme of survivors, at the centre itself and around the country.
Among the many tributes to Marina Smith was one from the doyen of Holocaust historians, Professor Yehuda Bauer, long-time academic at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.
Professor Bauer wrote: “I visited Beth Shalom, because I got to know Stephen [Smith], and was immensely impressed by the originality of the concepts that inspired the work there. The fact that it lies next to a village which maintained the medieval traditions seemed to me to be an ideal combination of past, present, and possibly future.
“Marina was everywhere, looking after amenities, food, content of the meetings, the survivors — and not only of the Holocaust — and the publications… The contacts developed, with both brothers, to this day, and Marina and Eddie were the anchors for their ships. I did not know Marina well, but what I experienced with her was a warm, almost cosy, atmosphere. We shall all miss her very much”.
In an emotional tribute, Marina’s husband Eddie remembered: “I remember our relationship was always about laughter. I would joke and pull her leg. She would laugh and hit me and tell me to stop making her laugh so hard”.
Beth Shalom, which Marina named, was initially founded by the couple as a retreat for their congregational work. Rev Smith recalled: “In 1981 we went to Israel as a family. This was a turning point for us as a couple and a family. We enjoyed being in Israel, discovering some of our spiritual and theological roots in Judaism.
“A decade later when the boys shared their desire to start a Holocaust Centre at Beth Shalom with Marina, she was enthusiastic to support them, knowing that they had important work to do. A few years later in 1995, the Beth Shalom Holocaust Centre was opened.
“Marina’s desire all along was that Beth Shalom should be a place of memory for the Holocaust survivors. As was always her principle, it should foremost be a place they could recognise as their own, a place to feel at home in.
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