“We have attacked adversity” Ben Helfgott reflects on the Holocaust

Photo: Ben Helfgott and Sir Martin at an annual ’45 Aid Society dinner celebrating Liberation.

More than half a century after liberation, Ben Helfgott reflected: “On the one hand we have recovered. On the other hand we have been damaged, a damage that is not outwardly visible. We have integrated so well that even our families are not aware of our trauma. There is not a day that goes by that does not evoke some painful memory of the past. Germans should see that the damage is still there. Nothing, but nothing, has eased the suffering. We are human beings who understand, but we cannot forgive. As I get older it haunts me more. It preys on my mind. What went through my mother’s mind when she was taken to be shot? I keep thinking about it. It doesn’t affect my getting on with my life, but it keeps coming back to me. In the end there is no one-hundred-per-cent recovery. Every time I read of some atrocity, whether it is in Ireland, Africa or Bosnia, or a random killing like that of the schoolchildren at Dunblane in Scotland, I feel for those who are left to grieve. And at that time I cannot help recalling those nearest and dearest to me who were killed so young and were so innocent.”

Two days later, Ben Helfgott returned to this theme: “I can’t get over it. It hurts me more and more. My mother and my little sister being taken away to be shot. It hurts. It is agonising. What were they thinking? We boys of the ’45 Aid Society may have led a full life. We have enjoyed the luxury of living. But we lost our parents when we were young. We did not have the pleasure of sharing our life with them – our achievements and our disappointments. There was always the missing ingredient of not being able to share with the people who brought me into this world. We have attacked adversity. But the family life that could have been was denied us. We had a taste of it when we were young. That is why the memory is so painful. It gets worse. I do not talk about it, but I feel like screaming, and saying, ‘Why? Why? Why?’ ”

An Excerpt from The Boys, Triumph Over Adversity © Martin Gilbert, 1996

READ MORE: The Boys, Triumph Over Adversity

Signatures of some of the Boys in Sir Martin’s copy of the book.

The Boys (1)

The Boys page 2 (1)

Read more about Sir Martin’s inspiration and interest in the Holocaust, his blogs, films and book talks: Sir Martin & The Holocaust

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