City of London pays tribute to Holocaust survivors
Ben Helfgott and Sabina Miller, two Polish survivors of the Holocaust, have received the Freedom of the City of London at The Mansion House today (Tuesday 20 January).
Their Freedoms, which pay tribute to their work with the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust to raise awareness of the atrocities perpetrated in Nazi Germany during World War Two, take place one week before Holocaust Memorial Day (27 January). The event will mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp.
The City Bridge Trust, the City of London Corporation’s charity, approached the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust last year about offering the Freedom of the City of London to Mr Helfgott and Mrs Miller.
Sabina, who was born in Warsaw in 1922, and her family were moved from their home after the invasion by Germany to the Warsaw Ghetto where, she believes, her parents probably died of typhus. In 1942, the 20-year old Sabina was smuggled out of the Ghetto, along with her little brother, by a Polish man who was paid by her older brother, to stay with an aunt who lived in the countryside. She managed to survive the war, assuming various identities and hiding in the Polish countryside. Sabina now lives in West Hampstead.
Ben, who spent his early years in Piotrkow, was taken with his father to Buchenwald. Ben was sent to a concentration camp in Schlieben, where anti-tank weapons were produced, and his father was left behind in Buchenwald. In April 1945, Ben was transported to Theresienstadt, three weeks before the camp was liberated. After liberation, Ben found out that his father had been shot a few days before the end of the war, as he made a bid to escape from a death march. Ben now lives in Harrow, Middlesex.
Their Freedom of the City of London ceremony at the Lord Mayor’s official residence began with Sabina and Ben reading aloud the Declaration of a Freeman and end with them each being greeted by Dr Peter Kane, Chamberlain of London, as a ‘Citizen of London’ and the presentation of their framed parchment certificates.
Ben Helfgott, from Harrow said:
“I am extremely grateful to the City of London Corporation, the City Bridge Trust and the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust for arranging for us to be granted the honour of the Freedom of the City of London. We accept it on behalf of all Holocaust survivors in the UK, who strive to keep alive the memory of those who perished, and to ensure that the lessons of the Holocaust are learnt in order to avoid such a tragedy ever happening again.”
Sabina Miller, from West Hampstead, said:
“I am overjoyed to have been asked to receive this honour. After surviving the Holocaust and coming to the UK, I was apprehensive, but I fell in love with this country because what I got was kindness and acceptance. To become a Freeman of the City of London is a wonderful privilege. I hope this will help raise awareness of Holocaust Memorial Day, when everyone should reflect on the horrors of the Holocaust and genocide.”
Jeremy Mayhew, chairman of the City of London Corporation’s charity, City Bridge Trust, said:
“I am delighted that Sabina and Ben accepted our invitation to receive the Freedom of the City of London. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude for their work in keeping alive the memory of the persecution that they, and so many others, suffered during World War Two.
“After more than seven decades, it must still be deeply painful for them to tell their stories and relive their experiences and yet, they do so in order to educate people about the corrosive effects of prejudice and the unspeakable horrors committed during conflict.”
The Freedom of the City of London is believed to have begun in 1237 and enabled recipients to carry out their trade. These days, people are nominated for, or apply for, the Freedom, because it offers them a link with the historic City of London and one of its ancient traditions.
The Freedom is also offered to individuals by the City of London Corporation to help celebrate a significant achievement, or to pay tribute to their outstanding contribution to London life or public life. However, many of the so-called traditional privileges associated with the Freedom, such as driving sheep over London Bridge, no longer exist.
Andrew Buckingham, Media Officer (Features), City of London Corporation
Tel: 020 7332 1452 / Mobile: 07795 333 060
ABOUT THE CITY OF LONDON CORPORATION:
The City of London Corporation is a uniquely diverse organisation. It supports and promotes the City as the world leader in international finance and business services and provides local services and policing for those working in, living in and visiting the Square Mile. It also provides valued services to London and the nation. These include the Barbican Centre and the Guildhall School of Music & Drama; the Guildhall Library and Art Gallery and London Metropolitan Archives; a range of education provision (including three City Academies); five Thames bridges (including Tower Bridge and the Millennium Bridge); the Central Criminal Court at Old Bailey; over 10,000 acres of open spaces (including Hampstead Heath and Epping Forest), and three wholesale food markets. It is also London’s Port Health Authority and runs the Animal Reception Centre at Heathrow. It works in partnership with neighbouring boroughs on the regeneration of surrounding areas and the City Bridge Trust, which it oversees, donates more than £15m to charity annually.
ABOUT HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL DAY:
Holocaust Memorial Day is the day (27 January) for everyone to remember the millions of people murdered in the Holocaust, under Nazi persecution and in the subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. The day marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau and 20 years since the genocide in Srebrenica, Bosnia. The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust organises the UK National Commemorative Event and provides resources and support to the organisers of over 2,400 events around the country. hmd.org.uk/keepthememoryalive.hmd.org.uk/