Genocide survivors urge compassion for migrants ahead of Holocaust Memorial Day

·3 min read

Holocaust and genocide survivors who fled their homelands to escape persecution have urged Britons to show the same compassion afforded to them to the thousands of people crossing the English Channel in search of sanctuary.

Vera Schaufeld, who left what is now the Czech Republic on Sir Nicholas Winton’s Kindertransport in 1939, said being able to find sanctuary in Bury St Edmunds as a nine-year-old effectively saved her life.

And El Sadiq Manees, who arrived in the UK in 2015 having secretly boarded a cross-continental freight train after escaping war-torn Sudan, asked people to better understand the life-or-death decisions made by those who choose to leave.

It comes ahead of Holocaust Memorial Day, on Thursday, when people will be asked to reflect upon the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust, and on genocides that followed in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.

And they said there are similarities between the plight of children fleeing the Nazi regime, and those seeking a place of safety in the UK today.

Investitures at Buckingham Palace
Vera Schaufeld, made an MBE for services to Holocaust education, has drawn comparisons between the plight of children who fled the Nazis and migrants crossing the Channel today (Victoria Jones/PA)

Mrs Schaufeld, 91, from Wembley in north London, told the PA news agency: “I would very much like England to show the really amazing kindness that it showed to me and to other refugee children, and to go on showing that today in a very troubled world.

“I feel appalled that people have risked their lives and their families’ lives in complete desperation.

“Nobody wants to leave their home country, unless things are so bad that even such a perilous journey seems to them to be a better undertaking than starvation or other awful things that are happening.

“They take this unimaginable risk.

”If England hadn’t shown the compassion and generosity that it did, then I think it’s very unlikely that I would have been alive.”

Migrant Channel crossing incidents
A man carries a young child as a group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dungeness, Kent, after being rescued by the RNLI lifeboat (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Her comments came amid mounting debate on the migrant crisis in the Channel, with more than 28,300 people crossing the perilous stretch of water from France to the UK on board small boats in 2021.

Mr Manees, a 32-year-old student living in London, said grave fears about ethnic cleansing in Darfur prompted him and others of African descent to flee, eventually seeking refuge in the UK.

He said: “When they call us illegal immigrants, that’s the toughest thing.

“We are not illegal. We are human beings. We have faced a lot of things. That’s why we came here.

“Sometimes when people are put in a position, they have no choice.”

Holocaust Memorial Day
Holocaust Memorial Day Trust chief executive Olivia Marks-Woldman has called for empathy for migrants (Justin Grainge/PA)

Olivia Marks-Woldman, chief executive of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, said the national day of remembrance offers an opportunity to also acknowledge migrants’ “desperate need” for empathy from the public.

She said: “No-one puts themselves in danger on the sea unless the land is more dangerous for them.

“We know people who’ve come to this country as refugees from the Holocaust, or as refugees from more recent genocides, have found a welcome and have been able to rebuild their lives here and have become contributors to British society.

“So, whilst there may be any number of different policy solutions to the current refugee crisis, we know that refugees desperately need our empathy and our welcome and our support.

“And on Holocaust Memorial Day, as we learn from the experiences of the survivors who’ve rebuilt their lives here, and we’ve learned about the steps that led to those atrocities and to those genocides, we know that we must put empathy at the heart of everything that we do.”

– Holocaust Memorial Day is held annually on January 27. For more details visit https://www.hmd.org.uk/

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