Tuesday, 20 January, 2015
Ben Helfgott and Sabina Miller, two Polish survivors of the Holocaust, today received the Freedom of the City of London at The Mansion House.
Their Freedoms, which pay tribute to their work with us to raise awareness of the atrocities perpetrated in Nazi-occupied Europe during World War Two, take place one week before Holocaust Memorial Day, which this year marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp.
Sabina was born in Warsaw in 1922. Her family were moved from their home when the Nazis invaded, forced into the Warsaw Ghetto where, she believes, her parents probably died of typhus. In 1942, the 20-year old Sabina was smuggled out of the ghetto, along with her little brother, by a Polish man who was paid by her older brother. She was moved to the countryside to stay with an aunt. She managed to survive the war, assuming various identities and hiding in the Polish countryside. Sabina now lives in West Hampstead, north London.
Ben, who spent his early years in Piotrkow in Poland, was taken with his father to Buchenwald in 1944. Ben was later sent to a concentration camp in Schlieben, where anti-tank weapons were produced, and his father was left behind in Buchenwald. In April 1945, Ben was transported to Theresienstadt, three weeks before the camp was liberated. After liberation, Ben found out that his father had been shot a few days before the end of the war, as he made a bid to escape from a death march. Ben now lives in Harrow, north London.
Their Freedom of the City of London ceremony at the Lord Mayor’s official residence began with Sabina and Ben reading aloud the Declaration of a Freeman and ended with them each being greeted by Dr Peter Kane, Chamberlain of London, as a ‘Citizen of London’ and the presentation of their framed parchment certificates.
Jeremy Mayhew, chairman of the City of London Corporation’s charity, City Bridge Trust, said: 'I am delighted that Sabina and Ben accepted our invitation to receive the Freedom of the City of London.
'We owe them a huge debt of gratitude for their work in keeping alive the memory of the persecution that they, and so many others, suffered during World War Two. After more than seven decades, it must still be deeply painful for them to tell their stories and relive their experiences and yet, they do so in order to educate people about the corrosive effects of prejudice and the unspeakable horrors committed during conflict.'
Ben Helfgott added: 'I am extremely grateful to the City of London Corporation, the City Bridge Trust and the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust for arranging for us to be granted the honour of the Freedom of the City of London. We accept it on behalf of all Holocaust survivors in the UK, who strive to keep alive the memory of those who perished, and to ensure that the lessons of the Holocaust are learnt in order to avoid such a tragedy ever happening again.”
Sabina Miller said: 'I am overjoyed to have been asked to receive this honour. After surviving the Holocaust and coming to the UK, I was apprehensive, but I fell in love with this country because what I got was kindness and acceptance.
'To become a Freeman of the City of London is a wonderful privilege. I hope this will help raise awareness of Holocaust Memorial Day, when everyone should reflect on the horrors of the Holocaust and genocide.'
The Freedom of the City of London is believed to have begun in 1237 and enabled recipients to carry out their trade. These days, people are nominated for, or apply for, the Freedom, because it offers them a link with the historic City of London and one of its ancient traditions. The Freedom is also offered to individuals by the City of London Corporation to help celebrate a significant achievement, or to pay tribute to their outstanding contribution to London life or public life. However, many of the so-called traditional privileges associated with the Freedom, such as driving sheep over London Bridge, no longer exist.