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Holocaust memorial: Gena Turgel tells Islington pupils ‘it’s my duty to tell survival story’

PUBLISHED: 14:10 30 January 2017 | UPDATED: 14:10 30 January 2017

Gena Turgel MBE speaking at Islington Assembly Hall. Picture: Steve Bainbridge

Gena Turgel MBE speaking at Islington Assembly Hall. Picture: Steve Bainbridge

2016 Steve Bainbridge

For Gena Turgel, recounting her experience as a Holocaust survivor is the most painful – but necessary – thing to do.

Pupils discuss how they can combat hate and prejudice at the Islington Assembly Hall Holocaust memorial. Picture: Steve Bainbridge Pupils discuss how they can combat hate and prejudice at the Islington Assembly Hall Holocaust memorial. Picture: Steve Bainbridge

On Friday, 93-year-old Ms Turgel spoke to a room of Islington secondary school pupils at the Assembly Hall to mark Holocaust Memorial Day.

“I witnessed the mass systematic destruction of civilisation,” she said. “It’s very painful, but it’s my duty to tell this story. We must build bridges, regardless of religion or colour, to aim for peace.”

For an hour, the room was silent as Ms Turgel told of living in Nazi-occupied Kraków, Poland. She was 16 when German forces began bombing her home city.

Ms Turgel and her family, some of whom were eventually murdered, were removed from their home.

First they were taken to a Jewish ghetto, then to the Buchenwald concentration camp, and finally to Bergen-Belsen, where she survived before it was liberated by Allied tanks in 1945.

“We are all human beings and we all want to be happy,” she added. “Our children should never experience what I experienced.”

Junction ward Cllr Kaya Comer-Schwarz also delivered a powerful speech – her grandad was a Holocaust survivor.

Cllr Kaya Comer-Schwarz recounts the story of her grandfather, who survived the Holocaust. Picture: Steve Bainbridge Cllr Kaya Comer-Schwarz recounts the story of her grandfather, who survived the Holocaust. Picture: Steve Bainbridge

She recalled the moment as a child asking him if he’d kill Hitler given the opportunity. His answer, Cllr Comer-Schwarz said, was “no”. His reason? “It would bring me down to his level.”

She said: “This day has special significance for me. My grandfather survived the Dachau concentration camp and came to the UK as a refugee. My existence was predicated on people being brave.

“The children who attended today are too young to remember atrocities like the Holocaust. So it’s especially important we never forget these tragedies, that we teach them never to repeat the mistakes of the past and to treat everyone equally and with compassion.

“We must never be silent when confronted with racism and hatred. We must stamp it out, wherever we find it.”

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