The Child victims of the Holocaust - a personal reflection on Holocaust Memorial Day

Conservative Group Leader, Cllr Joe Carlebach, writes:

Holocaust Memorial Day is on the 27th January this year, and as in previous years my thoughts are drawn to the fate of the many millions who perished at the hands of the Nazis: six million Jews, including many close members of my own family.

I have written before about my grandfather, Chief Rabbi Dr Joseph Carlebach (after whom I am named) and his brave and principled stand against the Nazis that ultimately cost him his life.

Whilst the entire episode of the Holocaust is both distressing and very difficult to make any sense of, I find it particularly difficult to understand the tragic reality of what happened to the children caught upon this nightmare. It is estimated that over 1.5 million children were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators during the Second World War. Of this, just over 1 million were Jewish children, tens of thousands were Romani children and many thousands were German children with physical and mental disabilities. Their backgrounds, who they were, and where they came from is irrelevant. The fact is that they were all just children, children who were brutally shot, gassed, beaten or starved to death.

Some had the very real misfortune to fall into the hands of monsters like Josef Mengele whose ‘medical’ experiments on children, and particularly twins, must rank as some of the worst excesses of cruelty known to humanity at any point in history.

Our natural instinct is to protect children, the young and vulnerable, yet during the Holocaust this basic tenet of human behaviour was apparently so easily abandoned by the Nazis.

My (late) father was fortunate in escaping the oncoming slaughter by gaining a place on the Kinder Transport to this country, along with a number of his sisters, a gesture of kindness for which I will forever be indebted to this great nation of ours. However, his younger brother and his three youngest sisters, Naomi, Sarah and Ruth were not so fortunate. They were deported with my grandparents from their home in Hamburg to Riga in late 1941. Following a period of internment, my grandparents and three young aunts were taken to Bikernieki forrest and murdered on March 26th 1942. Ruth, Naomi and Sara were just 15,14 and 13.

Ruth, Naomi, and Sarah

I cannot begin to understand the distress and anxiety they must have gone through, seeing and experiencing such horror. These three girls who should have been concerned with challenges of growing up, learning about the trials and tribulations of boys and the opportunities and challenges of schooling. They should have been looking forward to growing up, of future careers and families. Instead they were confronted with evil, prejudice, brutality, starvation and death.

Being murdered with your friends and parents is an unimaginable terror, the full horror of which is beyond anyones worst nightmares.

The vast numbers of children murdered during the Holocaust is a tragedy from history separated from today only by time. What turns history into a personal reality is the fate of my family and in particular these three young girls.

To personalise this tragedy is to destroy the aim of the Nazis, which was to dehumanise their victims. We should look for individual stories, remember victims by name and learn about the everyday lives they lived. This is what makes the victims of the Holocaust real people, not anonymous numbers and will help us all to learn from this dreadful and dark episode. This is especially pertinent for the child victims of the Holocaust whose lives, hopes and ambitions were so cruelly taken.

So at this time of year I spend a precious moment remembering Ruth, Naomi and Sarah. We never had the chance to meet and we never had the chance to know and enjoy each others company. We never had the opportunity to celebrate birthdays and other joyous family events together.  I will never forget them, and they will always be in my thoughts and prayers.

The personalisation and individualisation of genocide also has lessons for modern times: for the children of the Syrian conflict - especially the children of Aleppo, for the children of Yemen, the Rohingya children of Myanmar and all children having to live through any of the violent conflicts raging around the world. Turning numbers to names and names to individual lives is one of the key lessons of the Holocaust. By doing this we can help to combat prejudice, racism and intolerance wherever and whenever these evils occur.

We can show we have at least learnt something from one of the most barbarous, murderous and shocking events of modern times - the Holocaust.