by Irene Glausiusz, Office Volunteer
‘Many war memorials commemorate people who have died’ said Rabbi Dr Abraham Levy, Head of the Spanish & Portuguese Jews’ Congregation, when he spoke at City Hall in London during the recent 2012 Holocaust Memorial Day event, hosted by Mayor of London Boris Johnson. What is different about the monument in the Bulgarian town of Plovdiv, Rabbi Levy observed, is that it is dedicated to those that ‘Did Live!’.
On 10th March 1943 the Jewish residents of Plovdiv were to be deported to the Nazi death camps, but an official from the Greek Orthodox hierarchy protested. Lo and behold, deportation was cancelled and the people were told to go home. In 1998 a marble pillar was raised to remember this event and sited on the very spot from which deportation had been scheduled. Tragedy was averted because someone did ‘Speak Up, Speak Out’. It was this call to action that formed the theme of this year’s event.
A few of those who were spared, now in their eighties and nineties, are still living in Plovdiv in a retirement home. The keynote speaker, 84 year old Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, was arrested by the Nazis after it was discovered she was forging documents for prisoners of war.
She was taken to Auschwitz and in all likelihood would have been killed, but her life was spared because she was an accomplished cellist and the camp orchestra needed one. To this day, she cannot imagine how it was that she survived. Subsequently transported from Auschwitz to Bergen Belsen, she felt her life was ebbing away until miraculously, just in time, the camp was liberated by the British Army. She made the point that ‘Genocides arise when despots seek land or power. The victims had neither.’
Anita Lasker-Wallfisch said that sometimes TV viewers are warned about sights they might prefer not to watch. Her contention was ‘Don’t look away. You should know what is happening in war zones even now in the 21st Century.’ Later, Anita’s grandson Abraham gave a short cello recital which echoed his family’s musical virtuosity.
Testimonies were given by young people who had visited Auschwitz, sponsored by the Holocaust Educational Trust. They would never forget the experience which opened their eyes to the evils of anti-Semitism, racism and prejudice, which regrettably are still prevalent in today’s society linked to hatred and discrimination.
Boris Johnson, addressing the gathering, said ‘This event is our chance to remember lives lost, as well as the remarkable resilience of survivors and everyone affected by one of the darkest periods in human history’.
The Plovdiv memorial is named Monument of Gratitude and the dedicatory inscription in Hebrew is: To the memory of the man who assisted in the saving of the Jews of Plovdiv on 10th March 1943. The English inscription reads: To all who helped to save us on 10th March 1943, from the grateful Jewish community of Plovdiv.