Henry and the Holocaust
Events to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps will be held in and around Suffolk this week.
There is an exhibition in the Waterfront building at University Campus Suffolk from 10am to 4pm on 26th, 27th and 28th January, with a time for reflection from noon until 1.15pm on Wednesday 27th January. Speakers will include councillors from Ipswich Borough Council and Suffolk County Council.
Several years ago, our membership included someone who’d been liberated from the Theresienstadt Ghetto in 1945. Nearly 141,000 Jews were sent to the ghetto; only 17,247 survived. The rest died from disease or malnutrition, or were sent to the death camps.
I knew nothing about Henry’s history when he was a member of Suffolk Humanists, enjoying social events amongst friends. He never spoke about it, and most people took him for a typically English, mild-mannered gentleman.
Henry Green was the youngest of four children who were raised in a small Jewish community in Poland. They didn’t have much money but it was a close, loving family. His father was a pillar of the local community who taught his children his strong ethical values. Everything that Henry knew was destroyed by the Nazis. In his teens, Henry witnessed horrors that most people have never imagined, and few could comprehend. Henry died by suicide, tormented all his life by what he had seen and heard. He lost faith, not just in the religious sense, but in human nature. He found it hard to trust anyone, and hard to settle anywhere. After the war, he spent some time with his brother in Israel and his sister in America, before making his home in England, where he eventually married and had a family.
I learned about Henry’s story when I was asked to conduct his funeral, which was at Oakfield Wood green burial ground at Wrabness. His widow spoke at the graveside. Among other things, she said, “Slight of stature, probably due to a childhood when his stomach was frequently empty, Henry was a small man with a big heart, a very generous nature.” Among the mourners was a coachload of small men from London. They were members of the 45-Aid Society, holocaust survivors who’d come to England with the Kindertransport, a movement that enabled young refugees to escape. They were all small because, like Henry, they’d been starved when they were growing up. They respected Henry’s wish to have a non-religious funeral, but asked if they could say the Kaddish at the end, which they did. Afterwards, they lined up to hug and kiss me, and thank me for what I’d said, before they climbed aboard the bus and went back to London. It was very moving, and I felt very privileged.
I’ve befriended two other Jews who were refugees, and eventually conducted their funerals. Their stories were also moving, but Henry’s was perhaps the saddest, possibly because of the way he died.