A speech By Mr. Joe Lobenstein (formerly Mayor And
Councilor of the London Borough Of Hackney) at a special
ceremony held on 27th January 2005 at the Town Hall to mark
the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the notorious
Auschwitz Concentration Camp.
This afternoon I will attend, on behalf of the Union of
Orthodox Hebrew Congregations, a very impressive Holocaust
Memorial Day ceremony at Westminster Hall which will be
attended by HM the Queen, Prince Phillip, the Prime Minister,
and other leading personalities.
This morning I am responding to an invitation which the
Speaker of Hackney has extended to me, to speak for up to six
minutes on my own experiences of life in Nazi Germany in the
When I received the invitation a week or so ago, I started
jotting down a few notes and scrapped them again because I
didn't know where to start and where to end.
How can I express in six minutes, my feelings about when on
the 10th November 1938 (Kristallnacht) the doorbell of
our flat in Hanover rang at 6 o'clock in the morning, when a
group of half-drunk Nazi louts — not more than 18 or 20
years old — dragged my late father from our home and
dispatched him to Buchenwald Concentration Camp?
I was then 11 years old and didn't even know the meaning of
the words "Concentration Camp." In my youthful ignorance I
thought it was a holiday camp, until I was informed
How can I express in six minutes my feelings, about when the
town's huge and most beautiful synagogue was razed to the
ground, with hundreds of people — some of whom I
thought were my friends — joyfully dancing around the
burning house of prayer, which I always regarded as my second
home because I visited it for prayer with my late father
three times every day?
How can I express and relate in six minutes my feelings when
my late mother took me to the municipal baths, and at our
third visit we had to turn back because there was a notice on
the door that "Jews are not wanted here"?
How can I explain in six minutes the feelings of an 11-year-
old boy who was expelled from his school because he is a
That is what happened to me.
How can I relate in the few remaining minutes the feelings of
my late father, a commercial traveler in textile goods whom I
accompanied during the school holidays, when he was told by a
longstanding, loyal and satisfied customer: "Please don't
call on us again because our children belong to the Hitler
Youth Movement and they will report us to the authorities for
having contact with a Jew"?
Mr. Speaker, my six minutes are up and I have only managed to
scratch the surface of what life was like in Hitler's Germany
in the years which led up to the Holocaust when 6 million
Jews were brutally murdered. In Auschwitz alone, 1.1 million
Jews died, most of them in gas chambers. I do not wish to
burden you with horror stories. I want to look into the
The Oxford Dictionary defines the word "Holocaust" as
"wholesale destruction" — and that is precisely what it
was; and I hasten to add that although Jews bore the brunt of
this wholesale destruction, I am mindful of the fact that
millions of other people laid down their lives in defense of
freedom so that future generations may live.
I am also mindful of the fact that millions of lives have
been lost through tyrannies committed by other nations in
So what is the lesson of this mindless wholesale destruction
which we have come to commemorate today?
I could spend hours elaborating on this subject but will
confine my thoughts to one or two sentences: It is incumbent
upon schools, parents and youth leaders to imbue their
charges with a sense of justice and kindness towards their
neighbors; to be tolerant towards people of other
backgrounds, other religious views, other nationalities,
other lifestyles and beliefs, so that never again — I
repeat never again — will bitter hatred and murderous
intentions replace kindness and mutual respect which should
always be the hallmark of the human race.