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Yom Hashoah Remembrance evening at Pinner United Synagogue

The annual Yom Hashoah remembrance evening took place in Pinner Shul on April 18th with the hall packed to capacity (approx. 450 people). The evening began with the traditional lighting of 6 memorial candles (one for each of the 6 million Jews killed during the Holocaust) by survivors of German concentration camps, from Czechoslovakia, together with a member of the Pinner Youth, representing the 3rd generation.

Representatives from a number of Embassies (Slovak Republic, Czech, Germany, Austria, Romania) as well as the Mayor of Harrow (Mrinal Choudhury) attended.

The theme of the evening was ‘The Will to survive’ – with the evening’s speakers reflecting on what kept them going during those years of incarceration, when it would have been all too easy to give up.

Background information: - Why all the night’s candle-lighter survivors are from (former) Czechoslovakia:

Heydrich, nicknamed the Butcher of Prague, was the chief of the Reich Main Security Office (Reichssicherheitshauptamt) and one of the masterminds behind the Final Solution, the Nazi programme for the genocide of European Jews, and in January 1942 chair of the Wannsee Conference.

2012 marks the 70th anniversary of his assassination, code named Operation Anthropoid. The British Special Operations Executive (SOE) helped train* Czech/Slovak freedom fighters Jan Kubiš and Jozef Gabcík for six months before airlifting them into German-occupied Czechoslovakia for an attack on May 27th, 1942. The grenade attack on Heydrich’s car left him fatally wounded and he died on June 4th 1942.

In reprisal, more than 13,000 people were ultimately arrested, and many were killed. The most notorious incident was the destruction of the village of Lidiceon June 9, 1942 when all the male residents were executed, and most women and children were deported.

Sir Andrew Burns, UK Envoy for Post-Holocaust Issues gave a short address outlining the significant role of the British Government (cross-party) in building relationships across Europe not only to better understand the outcomes and issues related to the Holocaust but to be vigilant of the threat of the rise of anti-Semitism and he was followed by the evening’s key-note speakers.

Zdenka Fantlová now 90 years old, who grew up in Rokycany lost all members of her immediate family. She survived several concentration camps, including, Auschwitz, and was liberated in Bergen-Belsen. She is a well-known speaker nationally and internationally and was a runner up in the 2010 contest of the Sternberg Active Life Award. Her book, The Tin Ring, which was translated into Czech and German, was available for sale – more than 40 copes were sold and purchasers queued till 11.15pm to chat to Zdenka in person and have their book signed. *Another interesting point to note is that today Zdenka lives in Bayswater in the very building in which the SOE planned the assassination of Heydrich – and a plaque on the building noting this has just been unveiled.

Zdenka spoke movingly of her experiences and how unbelievably naive she was initially simply not believing what she was witnessing, yet with the optimism of a 17-year old she persevered with the will to live. She spoke in some detail of how whilst travelling in a cattle truck from Terezin to Auschwitz, she shared a tin of sardines with Raphael Schaechter – the prime mover of musical activities in Terezin where the prisoners produced plays with cynical messages of good triumphing over evil – who quoted it as his last supper, which it was.

She also told a tearful audience about the tin ring (ref name of her book) which her boyfriend gave her as a sign of love and engagement to be married (should they survive, which he did not) and which inspired and filled her with courage throughout all her tribulations. Her summing up message to the group was that – there is always another way.

Victor Greenberg grew up in the village of Majdan (now in Slovakia). In 1941 he and his family were among very few to escape when almost the entire Jewish population of the town was massacred. Their ‘reward’ was to be put on transport to Auschwitz where Victor's family were murdered. He survived only to be sent to Mauthausen. He was liberated in Gunskirchen by the Americans finally arriving in Britain in 1946 and is one of ‘The Boys’ in Martin Gilbert’s book. Victor, who experienced one terrible blow after another had the audience spell bound with his will to live and determination to overcome the odds against him, which he did.

He left the audience with the message saying you can do it (beating the odds) if one is determined.

Melvin Barnett speaks with Zdenka Fantlova

From Left to Right: Frank Fantl, Victor Greenberg, Zdenka Fantlova, Gerta Vrbova, Josi Knight, Zdenka Husserl

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