Born in 1929 in Pabianice, Poland, Ben survived Buchenwald and was liberated from Terezin in May 1945 by the Russian Army. From his extended family, only his sister Mala survived. After the war, Ben settled in Great Britain, which he represented at the 1956 and 1960 Olympics, and won a bronze medal at the 1958 Commonwealth Games in weightlifting. He now lives in London with his wife Arza and has three sons and nine grandchildren. He is a member of the UK delegation to the IHRA, and sat down for this interview in 2015.
Although there was great ignorance about the Holocaust when the IHRA was founded, I am delighted that we have made great progress since then. The most critical development for me was the demise of Communism; without this, the IHRA would never have come into existence. The reunification of Europe opened up new possibilities. In addition to Göran Persson and Bill Clinton, in the UK we were very fortunate to have in Tony Blair a Prime Minister who was thoroughly committed to this cause. Together, these conditions constituted perfect timing for creating the IHRA. My stand-out memories from the first IHRA Plenary are Persson’s speeches, but the whole atmosphere was phenomenal. Everyone there knew we were part of something historic and very special.
Overall, excellent, but success is dependent on the country Chairs — it is up to them to build on the achievements of previous years and put their own stamp on proceedings. We are very fortunate in the UK to have Sir Andrew Burns, who is a great leader and someone who has galvanized our work. I must also give credit to the countries involved in instigating and arranging the creation of the Permanent Office in Berlin. This has been a great achievement and has given the organization a strong identity. I am delighted that more and more countries have become members and that still others are encouraged by the words and commitments of the Stockholm Declaration.
Although I am nominally a member of the Memorials and Museums Working Group, as a representative of the UK Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, I am very happy to assist with any aspect of the work of colleagues in the UK delegation and contribute to the IHRA in whatever way I can.
In light of recent events and current perceptions of the Holocaust, it is essential to hold on to what we created in 2000 in Sweden and stay focused on our original objectives. I am very determined about this. We must also encourage wider membership, so that people in other countries can have access to the IHRA’s formidable network and professional expertise. It is essential that we remain committed to the principles of the Stockholm Declaration — it is our bible. The IHRA was founded as a temporary task force.
Although the IHRA began with only three member countries, almost immediately four more joined and from the outset there was a strong interest from other European countries to be involved. Without question, the IHRA will continue long after the survivors have.
I feel strongly that we are achieving a great deal. We can always try to promote ourselves more but this should not detract from what we are doing or what we have achieved.
Although I am confident that survivors’ messages are well preserved, it is up to organizations and governments in each country to accept this obligation and commit the necessary resources. Through the IHRA’s network, and thanks to the work of some remarkable organizations, we are fortunate to have access to some excellent materials.
No — only my friend Feliks, who I greatly miss from these proceedings. He made a great and important contribution to our work and it was with deep sadness that I learned of his passing.