The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge attended a national ceremony commemorating the liberation of Auschwitz. There they met with 12 survivors of the genocide, including those persecuted by the Nazis and others from Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur. Together they lighted the first of 75 candles on stage to represent 75 years since Auschwitz was liberated. While talking to them the couple revealed that they had explained the genocide to their children, in a way they could understand of course.
“We were talking to the children about it earlier today,” Kate told Mala Tribich, who had asked about her family.
“But we have to be, you know, for a six year old… the interpretation. It was so emotional, so many moving stories,” the Duchess told a group, including Mala, who had spoken on stage of her experience of surviving Bergen-Belsen.
“You were fantastic,” she added, putting a hand on Mala’s arm, before asking about how she tells her story to schoolchildren. “Do your experiences resonate with them?” she asked. “Do they feel they can do something for their generation?” “So many families are totally torn apart by the trauma and how that plays out over the generations,” said the Duchess.
Mala, 89, said afterwards: “I said I speak about it in schools and she was asking what impact it has. It brings them closer to the history. “I told her I follow her and her lovely children in the news and she said ‘I have told the children’. They have made them aware of it (the Holocaust). I suppose she tells it in the measure that it’s applicable to that age.”
Mala said of the ceremony: “I found it very emotional. The reason I am able to speak about it all is that I’m able to control my emotions, but lately it has become more difficult. It [the music] went right into my bones.”
The Duchess also got the chance to meet with Yvonne Bernstein again, as she photographed her at Kensington Palace for a special exhibition earlier this month. Kate blushed when Yvonne complimented her photography skills, replying with: “I had a very good model! She was fantastic. It was very special, I was very honoured.”
The two women embraced and seemed delighted to see each other again, with the Duchess telling Yvonne, 82, “You were brilliant, you were very patient.”
“I came out pretty well!” laughed Yvonne. She said afterwards: “I got a kiss on both cheeks from the Duchess. She and all her staff were so kind to us. We were made to feel very comfortable. She really did take it all [her story] on board.”
When asked about how important it is to have a royal presence at the commemoration, she replied with: “It’s absolutely vital. It really is important. They do a terrific job.” Laura Marks, chairman of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust added: “We’ve had the Prince of Wales at Yad Vashem and today the Duchess of Cornwall at Auschwitz and having the Duke and Duchess here, the message it sends out is how important they consider it to be.”
Prince William also shared stories with the people present, Daniela Abraham for example, a Roma activist who had been overcome by emotion after speaking on stage about how her relatives were murdered by the Nazis. “You spoke very well,” he told her. “Thank you so much.” Kate told the same group: “It’s so humbling to hear the gratitude from people, despite what you have gone through. It’s heartbreaking to hear.”
Manfred Goldberg, 89, a survivor of the Stutthof camp, explained to the Duchess that people find it hard to comprehend how six million Jews were killed. “When you hear the stories of an individual it becomes easier to understand this better. And it has taken a while for everybody to be able to speak,” said Kate.
“It’s hard to stand up there and do that. “I’m really interested in intergenerational trauma and how it affects a family. It’s so important.”
At the beginning of the ceremony, after a touching performance of the Jewish prayer “El Male Rachamim” by cantor Johnny Turgel, the royals joined the 12 survivors as they got on stage to light the first of the 75 candles.
It was truly a moving sight, with some of the survivors letting their emotions take over and shed tears as the two royals lit the tapers from the candles, using them to pass the light on to others including faith leaders and people from across the UK. Kate also seemed a bit emotional as the lights in the auditorium were dimmed.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowed he would build a national memorial to ensure the horrors of the Holocaust are never forgotten. “As Prime Minister, I promise that we will preserve this truth forever. I will make sure that we build a National Holocaust Memorial and education Centre.”
He added: “I will do everything I can to ensure these testimonies are shared as much as possible.” He said he felt “a deep sense of shame that here in Britain in 2020 we seem to be dealing with a resurgence of the virus of antisemitism and I know that I carry a responsibility as Prime Minister to do everything I can to stamp it out.”
At the event there were performances by Sheku and Braimah Kanneh-Mason, who performed Prayer No 1 from Jewish Life, by Ernest Bloch. Then there were testimonies from journalist Ed Vulliamy and Kelima Dautovic and Dzemal Paratusic, survivors of the Srebrenica massacre.
Actress Georgina Campbell read the account of a young Rohingya refugee girl from 2017. Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis called on the audience, which included the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, to “carve out a destiny of hope and promise”, telling the audience: “Let us then chose to stand together in solidarity with the victims of the Holocaust. Let us choose to stand together to confront anti-semitism, racism, hate speech and demonization.”