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The Power of Words: Islington observes Holocaust Memorial Day with testimony from a survivor

Ernest Simon speaking at Islington Assembly Hall 29 Jan 18

Ernest Simon speaking at Islington Assembly Hall 29 Jan 18

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chool children, faith groups and local residents in Islington heard powerful testimony from Holocaust survivor Ernest Simon in a Holocaust Memorial Day event, yesterday (Monday, January 29).

Ernest Simon fled Austria as a child in 1939 on the Kindertransport – an organized rescue effort to evacuate Jewish children to the UK from Nazi Europe. Aged eight, he witnessed Kristallnacht and could see prayer books and Torah scrolls being burnt at the Synagogue at the end of his road.

The national theme for this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day is ‘The Power of Words’. Today’s event, held at Islington Assembly Hall to commemorate the Holocaust and other genocides, aimed to spark discussion on the causes and devastating effects of genocide.

Other speakers included Leader of the Council Richard Watts, Jeremy Corbyn MP and Emily Thornberry MP.

The event was closed by the World Harmony Orchestra, an ensemble with links to the Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants, whose musicians include refugees from around the world. The orchestra played music written by Ilse Weber, a Czech songwriter who wrote music while in Theresienstadt concentration camp.

Cllr Kaya Comer-Schwartz, Islington Council's executive member for community development, whose grandfather was himself a Holocaust survivor, said:

“Holocaust Memorial Day is chance to stop and remember. We remember the enormity of past atrocities, the devastation, and the pain that echoes through generations.

“Genocides, wherever they occur, are not solely the creation of powerful individuals. They are made of hundreds of thousands of individual decisions, made by many, many people making choices to participate, to facilitate, or even just to ignore.

“The lessons of history have taught us that we can never turn a blind eye to hatred and prejudice, whatever its form. No one is immune, and it is up to each and every one of us to practice acceptance, respect and understanding of difference in our everyday lives – and to stand up to hatred when we see it.”

Notes to Editor:

  • About Ernest Simon:

Ernest was born in May 1930 in Eisenstadt, Austria. Following the Anschluss in March 1938, Ernest and his family moved from Eisenstadt to Vienna, where they settled in a small flat in the Jewish quarter. As soon as they moved, Ernest’s father began making desperate efforts for the family to leave the country. On 9th November 1938, Ernest witnessed Kristallnacht and could see prayer books and Torah scrolls being burnt at the Synagogue at the end of his road through his bedroom window.

Following Kristallnacht, Ernest’s parents were finally able to secure a place for him on the Kindertransport. He left Vienna on 11th January 1939. Ernest’s younger brother remained in Austria with his parents and a month later they were able to travel to the UK on domestic permits. Ernest was living with a Jewish family in Leeds at the time and his parents worked and lived just outside Leeds. His brother lived with foster parents nearby.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Ernest was sent to Lincolnshire, where he lived with a foster family in a small village. No German was spoken in the village and as Ernest’s English improved his German deteriorated. His mother was so upset that he no longer spoke German that she insisted he return to Leeds to be close to his family. Soon after he returned, his father was arrested and interned for 12 months on the Isle of Man as an ‘Enemy Alien’. On his release in 1942, the family moved into a small house and were able to live together as a family for the first time since leaving Austria.

Ernest went on to study Economics at Leeds University and now lives in London. He continues to speak about his and his family’s experiences during the Second World War.

For further information please contact:

Kate Robson
Senior Media Officer
Islington Council
Room G16, Upper Street, London, N1 2UD
Tel: 0207 527 8004
Out of hours mob: 07769 163303
Alternative contact: Media line 020 7527 2307