The Holocaust Educational Trust's Lord Merlyn-Rees Memorial Lecture, Tuesday 12th January 2016

Nicky Morgan MP, Secretary of State for Education, with some of the Holocaust survivors who still publicly share their testimony

The annual Lord Merlyn-Rees Lecture has become a staple in the Holocaust Educational Trust's calendar since it was first held in 2006. There is no better testament to its popularity than the fact that, once again, the room was completely full, with even standing room in short supply by the time Karen Pollock, CEO of the Trust, introduced the evening.

Nicky Morgan MP, Secretary of State for Education and the first guest speaker of the evening, reaffirmed the importance of Holocaust education in Britain and the work that is being carried out by the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation. She paid tribute to both survivors and HET Ambassadors for their tireless efforts to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive, and reflected on her personal experience of visiting Auschwitz with the Trust in 2012.

HET Regional Ambassador Jake Madgwick-Lawton then told the audience about participating in the 'Lessons from Auschwitz' Project, and the journey which he has taken from the first Orientation seminar to becoming a Regional Ambassador. Very touchingly, he was able to personally thank Holocaust survivor Eva Clarke for sharing her testimony with him during the project, and spoke of the steps he is taking, along with other Regional Ambassadors, to ensure that the Holocaust is remembered and commemorated appropriately in the UK.

The main portion of the evening, however, involved a conversation with Clarke and author Wendy Holden, hosted by Women's Editor of The Daily Telegraph and BBC Radio presenter Emma Barnett. Holden recently published a book, Born Survivors, about three babies that were born in concentration camps towards the end of the war and miraculously survived. Eva Clarke was one of those babies; her mother experienced the hell of Theresienstadt, Auschwitz-Birkenau and a factory in Germany before giving birth to Eva at the entrance to Mauthausen, just three days before it was liberated by American troops. The only reason Eva and her mother Anka survived, she says, is because the SS had run out of gas with which to murder newly-arrived prisoners. More details about Eva and her mother's story can be read here.
Wendy Holden also summarised the stories of the two other women that she wrote about in her book. Amazingly, all three babies were born on the route to Mauthausen, within eight days of each other. Two were born in open coal trucks, with dead and dying women lying all around them; none, of course, were born with any medical assistance. Upon arrival in the camp, these mothers and their newborns were kept in a barracks, left to starve to death. Despite each weighing about 3lbs - their mothers themselves weighed only around five stone - and the atrocious lack of hygiene, nourishment and adequate clothing, all the babies survived. Eva, Hannah and Mark are now great friends and have found something of a 'sibling' relationship with each other. During this conversation, it was difficult to keep some of the emotion back at points, both for the speakers and the audience.

The evening was brought to a close by Oliver Dowden MP, who kindly sponsored the event. There was very little left for him to say after such an incredible talk, and the impression that had been left on the audience could clearly be seen as so many people made their way to the front to speak to Eva and Wendy. 71 years later, such testimony still has the power to shock, anger and provoke thought about all those who were involved in the Holocaust, from all perspectives. Based on last night's event, I would also recommend Born Survivors - although I myself have not read it yet!