Hammers mark Holocaust Memorial Day

Holocaust Memorial Day

West Ham United continued their commitment to promote tolerance and inclusion in 2014 by marking Holocaust Memorial Day at the Barclays Premier League visit of Newcastle United.

The Club remains committed to tackling discrimination in whatever form it takes and will be promoting events and campaigns that highlight and combat prejudice towards disability, race, sex, sexual orientation and religion throughout the year.

As well as marking Holocaust Memorial Day - which will be held this year on 27 January - at Saturday's game, the Club will also be sending representatives to the local events in remembrance of the estimated eleven million people who were killed by the Nazis during World War Two.

Jews, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, Soviet prisoners of war, people of Roma and Sinti origin and the disabled were among those who needlessly died.

The theme of this year's Holocaust Memorial Day 'Journeys', exploring the different types of journeys experienced by people who suffered under genocide, and providing suggestions for resources and further reading.

Holocaust Memorial Day has traditionally been observed with candle lighting. Six candles are lighted to represent the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Each remembrance candle is lit to represent one million victims.

Therefore, 15 minutes before kick-off, six candles were lit at the Boleyn Ground by West Ham United Joint-Chairman David Gold, Board member Daniel Harris, Mayor of Newham Sir Robin Wales, Westminster Synagogue Rabbi Thomas Salamon, Holocaust survivor and Olympic weightlifter Ben Helfgott and Royal British Legion East Ham branch secretary Ken Hill.

To learn more about the Holocaust, visit the Holocaust Educational Trust website here.

A message from Rabbi Thomas Salamon

Rabbi Thomas Salamon

I want to thank West Ham United and Newcastle United for having the courage and conviction to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day and to express my admiration for the work of the West Ham United Inspire Learning Centre which has for 13 years developed innovative programmes for young people including Black History Month, the Olympic Legacy and Kick it out.

Football is in the forefront of the Kick it Out campaign which works throughout sporting, educational and community sectors to challenge racial discrimination, encourage inclusive practices and create positive change.

Today's candle lighting ceremony reminds us and the world of all those brutally murdered in the Holocaust. We remember six million Jews and all the many other innocent victims of that brutal regime: homosexuals, gypsies, the physically and mentally disabled, and those who dared to stand up to fascism.

In 1933, the Reverend Martin Niemoeller welcomed the coming to power of the Nazis but by the beginning of the following year he recognised his mistake and became the guiding spirit of the minority resistance. He wrote:

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out

— because I was not a communist;

Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out

— because I was not a socialist;

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out

— because I was not a trade unionist;

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out

— because I was not a Jew;

Then they came for me

— and there was no one left to speak out for me.

We have still to learn the many lessons of the Holocaust. And so this Memorial Day is a timely reminder to all races, religions and creeds to be vigilant and to love one another. God created humanity as His partners in healing and in seeking justice. He asks us to bring about universal harmony, to transform our world and protect it from prejudice and hatred, and to do all this using nothing more than our own acts of goodness and lovingkindness.

Please remember the words of Nelson Mandela: "We can change the world and make it a better place. It is in your hands to make a difference."

Thank you, West Ham and Newcastle for taking this stand.

Rabbi Thomas Salamon

A message from Ben Helfgott MBE

Ben Helfgott

I was born on 22 November 1929.

On 1 September 1939, the Germans attacked Poland and on 2 September my hometown Piotrkow Trybunalski was bombed. It was there that the first Ghetto in Poland was set up on 1 November 1939. There were 15,000 Jews living in Piotrkow Trybunalski in 1939.

Five years, eight months and one week later, only 1,200 survived!

This was the fate of Jewish communities throughout Nazi-occupied Europe.

Jews from outlying districts were brought to the Ghetto and, by 1940, the numbers swelled to 28,000 in an area where before the war only 4,000 had lived. Due to epidemics and starvation the numbers decreased to 25,000 by October 1942.

Some 22,500 Jews of the Piotrkow Ghetto were deported to Treblinka for extermination. In subsequent round-ups my Mother and youngest sister were murdered in the local forests together with 550 others. My Mother was 39 and my youngest sister just eight.

My Father and I were sent to Buchenwald Concentration Camp in Germany and there we were cruelly separated. Two weeks before liberation, he was killed trying to escape while on one of the Death Marches to Theresienstadt.

I was sent to Schlieben Concentration Camp. The little that was left of civilised life was completely stripped from us. We were subjected to long hours of hard and tedious work. Lacking warm and protective clothing, we were freezing to death.

We were infested and eaten up by bugs and lice and, worst of all, we were steadily becoming demented as a result of utter starvation. The acquisition of a piece of bread or an extra plate of soup was our main preoccupation. It was not surprising that the few who had, so far, evaded death through sheer luck or by dint of perseverance, were rapidly dwindling away.

I was liberated in Theresienstadt on 9 May 1945 and joined a group being sent to England. I had always been an Anglophile. How could a 15-year-old boy not love England? My father had always boasted of his English suits, the world map was conspicuously coloured pink to indicate the British Empire and England had just won the war!

I was brought to England as part of a group of 732 orphaned Concentration Camp survivors all under the age of 16. My younger sister, who was liberated in Bergen Belsen by the British, followed. Because of the overwhelming number of boys in the group we affectionately became know as 'The Boys' and in 1963 we formed the '45 Aid Society'.

Despite my war experiences, my enthusiasm for sport was undiminished and I went on to become British Lightweight Weightlifting Champion for seven years, won bronze in the Commonwealth Games and captained the British Weightlifting team in the Melbourne and Rome Olympic Games in 1956 and 1960 respectively.

I am often asked how I felt when marching into the stadium at the opening ceremony in Melbourne. It was my 27th birthday and I was very proud but the feeling uppermost in my thoughts was of my parents and how proud they would have been. I also felt that I was representing all those who had been so brutally murdered and whose talents and potential did not come to fruition.

Andy Carroll and Stewart Downing were part of the England squad at Euro 2012 when I met them on the eve of their trip to Poland and their meaningful visit to Auschwitz.

In spite of the fact that I have diligently pursued my career, sporting activities and social and cultural engagements, I have always been conscious of my responsibility to preserve the memory of those who perished in such a barbarous way. I want to pay tribute and offer a very personal vote of gratitude to West Ham Football Club for marking Holocaust Memorial Day.

My Holocaust experiences have hardened me and made me more realistic about human nature, but I was repelled by the evil I witnessed. I despaired but I did not let cruelty and injustice break my spirit. I refused to poison my life with revenge and hatred for hatred is corrosive.

Instead, I was left with a dream - to live in a world of understanding, compassion, fraternity and love for my fellow man.

Ben Helfgott MBE, D.Univ.(Southampton),Hons D. Lit(Ed)