Ifraah Samatar, a former participant on HET’s Lessons from Auschwitz programme, broke down as she told diners of her visit to the camp and asked why genocide continues in the world today.
Recalling the experiences of survivor Joseph Perl, who was among the 500 guests at Banqueting Hall for the 20th anniversary dinner, the Skinners’ Company’s School for Girls pupil said: “He was imprisoned in the camps. He saw people being treated like animals. I was shocked when Jo told me he had forgiven these people and holds no grudge against them.
“When I was in Poland, Jo Perl’s words came back to me and I saw the places where these incidents occurred. I loathe the people who made the choice to carry out these inhumane acts.”
She added: “Auschwitz was horrific. People were given the power to commit mass murder. But people are still being tortured and killed today. When people in 60 years’ time travel to the sites of Rwanda and Darfur, will they ask the same questions that I asked of the Holocaust? How could people let this happen?”
So moved were they by the teenager’s passionate address that diner after diner, including Schools Secretary Ed Balls, flocked to thank and pay tribute to her, making her the unlikely centre of attention amid the star-studded gathering.
But embarrassed by all the attention, the modest student later told TJ: “I don’t deserve it. I just visited the place but these survivors who are here tonight, Elie himself, Joseph who I mentioned in my speech, they’re the celebrities, they are the heroes.”
Ifraah – who said it was recalling being back at the notorious site which caused her outpouring of emotion – added: “I’m just a little messenger who is saying what I felt from my heart.”
The evening – attended by the Chief Rabbi, actor Sir Antony Sher, historian Sir Martin Gilbert and a host of parliamentarians – raised funds for the HET’s new schools’ programme Think Equal.
Having already been piloted in inner city institutions as a response to current issues of racial tension, the Trust now aims to take the initiative nationwide to encourage youngsters across the country to reflect on their responsibility as citizens today and learn about the dangers of stereotyping.
Think Equal is just the latest in a series of HET projects, since the organisation was founded by the late Lord Merlyn-Rees and Lord Janner, whose contribution was acknowledged with a special award.
“It’s hard to believe that twenty years ago, the Holocaust was barely spoken about, let alone taught in schools,” said Balls in making the presentation. “It was Lord Janner’s passion and commitment to ensure the lessons of the Holocaust were passed on from generation to generation that enabled this great change in the education system. He has made an incredible contribution to this country and this cause and we salute him.”
He later told TJ: “The mark of leadership is to see a problem and a solution before anybody else.”
Lord Janner said he had “no intention of changing my way of life and stopping what I do”.
Guest speaker Wiesel, meanwhile, said the HET “is doing something essential to our understanding of the world”.
And the Holocaust survivor and nobel laureate – who was described by Lord Janner as one of our “rare human heroes” – added: “We must learn that whenever people suffer… we have a duty to say no to that injustice.”
The celebrity group are celebrity agents who provide after dinner speakers for a variety of functions. For more information please visit http://www.celebrity.co.uk.
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