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William the witness: Why Prince’s Israel visit was so profound for Shoah education

“I am well aware that the responsibility falls now to my generation, to keep the memory alive of that great crime, as the Holocaust generation passes on. And I commit myself to doing this.” These powerful words came from the future King of England, His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge, during his historic tour of the Middle East last week.

These words send a strong and powerful statement from our future King. They fill me with hope, that the future of Holocaust education and remembrance will have a safe place on our national agenda for years to come.

His words echo the mission of the Holocaust Educational Trust – we believe firmly that the next generation need to take the baton of Holocaust education and remembrance, and within our community of young Ambassadors this dedication to our cause is palpable.

This was as prominent to me as ever when earlier this week 300 young people gathered in London for our Ambassador Conference to learn more about the Holocaust, hear survivor testimony and use their voices to speak the truth of the Holocaust. They learned about the complex history of the past, they considered the challenges we face today as we talk about the Holocaust and the grim reality of Holocaust denial and antisemitism – and what it means for them as passionate advocates for our cause.

These Ambassadors are on a journey with us. They have all heard from Holocaust survivors, they have visited Auschwitz-Birkenau and seen for themselves the site where 1.1 million men, women and children were murdered, just because they were Jewish. They have shared what they have learnt with their friends and family. And they have become champions, dedicated to sharing the memory of the past.

And in this mission, they stand shoulder to shoulder with royalty. We are proud to also call Prince William a true champion of our cause. Only last year, we were delighted to take the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on a visit to Stutthof where they too saw for themselves a place of horror during the Holocaust. They met survivors of the camp – Zigi Shipper BEM and Manfred Goldberg. At the time, Their Royal Highnesses said that the “shattering visit” had reminded them of the “horrendous murder of six million Jews”. It was a profoundly moving experience for all of us who were there, and one that the Prince himself reflected on after his visit to Yad Vashem. It was a powerful day, one I am sure none of us will ever forget.

Seeing the Duke of Cambridge pay his respects to the 6 million Jews murdered during the Holocaust at Yad Vashem and visit the grave of his great grandmother, Princess Alice of Battenburg – was unforgettable. Against all odds, Alice risked her life to save Jews in Greece. She was honoured with the title ‘Righteous Amongst the Nations’, a title that carries so many connotations, and that cannot be underestimated. Princess Alice was a hero, who sheltered Rachel Cohen and her five children. She stood up when all those around her stood by; refusing to lose her principles; doing the right thing whatever the risk. Even when the Gestapo grew suspicious and interviewed her, her courage was unwavering. Seeing His Royal Highness, the great grandson of this rescuer, meet the great grandchildren of those she rescued, was incredible.

I watched with pride and awe as Prince William made the first official visit by a member of the British Royal Family to Israel. The visit was not only unprecedented but he walked a challenging diplomatic tightrope, delicately and masterfully. He displayed charm, warmth and sincerity at every step. Whether it was seeing His Royal Highness walk down Rothschild Boulevard, meeting new Israeli icon Netta, playing footvolley in the sweltering heat on the beach or standing solemnly with his hand on the Western Wall, these were unforgettable moments.

Prince William is a champion for all of us –for Holocaust survivors, for young people committed to remembering the past, to those of us invested with the responsibility for educating the next generation and to the Jewish community here, and around the world. He is a champion of kindness and humanity. We owe him a debt of gratitude.

About the Author
Karen Pollock is the Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust (H.E.T.)
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