Editor’s comment: How a student’s film illustrates the power of words

Leon Greenman

Leon Greenman - Credit: Archant

This week we tell the moving story of 19-year-old History undergraduate Joshua Rocker who spent the money he raised during his gap year on making a film.

Filmmaker Joshua Rocker tells pupils about Leon Greeman on a school trip to Auschwitz. Photo: JOSHUA

Filmmaker Joshua Rocker tells pupils about Leon Greeman on a school trip to Auschwitz. Photo: JOSHUA ROCKER - Credit: Archant

The film is a documentary about Holocaust survivor Leon Greenman who Joshua met when he was just seven years old.

During that meeting, Leon told a young Joshua to “promise to tell his story”.

This is a promise that Joshua has never forgotten.

Leon’s ordeal of surviving Auschwitz where he saw his wife and son murdered, had such an affect on the schoolboy he has carried it in his mind ever since.

Holocaust Memorial Day 2017: Trudy Gold, Dame Janet Suzman, Anita Lasker-Walfisch, Mala Tribich, Ott

Holocaust Memorial Day 2017: Trudy Gold, Dame Janet Suzman, Anita Lasker-Walfisch, Mala Tribich, Otto Dautsch, Joanna Millan, George Vulkan and Renee Salt at last year's event at JW3. Picture: Nigel Sutton - Credit: Nigel Sutton


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It was during his gap year while working at the Jewish Museum in Camden, that Joshua fulfilled his promise, making the documentary about Leon’s life.

Joshua showed his film at the Jewish Museum last Sunday and now wants to take Leon’s story to wider audiences around the world.

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Leon died in 2008 at the age of 97 but his legacy lives on thanks to that chance meeting with a young boy 12 years ago.

This moving story is the perfect example of the power of words.

The Power of Words is the theme of the 2018 Holocaust Memorial Day this Saturday, being commemorated with events across our area. Leon Greenman, like many fellow survivors, was a remarkable person. While going through his ordeal in Auschwitz he made his own vow to tell his story to the world.

Arriving in Britain in 1945 following the liberation of the camps, he spent time physically recuperating and then as soon as he was back on his feet, began to tell schoolchildren and adults the truth about the horrific atrocities he had witnessed.

Over the weekend at Holocaust Memorial Day events throughout Camden, other brave Holocaust survivors Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, who played in the women’s orchestra at Auschwitz, and Bea Green, who was rescued and arrived in Britain on the Kindertransport, will speak.

Anne Frank wrote in her diary in April 1944: “I want to go on living even after my death! And that’s why I am so grateful to God for having given me this gift, which I can use to develop myself and to express all that’s in me. When I write I can shake off all my cares; my sorrow disappears; my spirits are revived.’ - This is another prime example of when the power of words are used for good. But as the Holocaust showed, words can also be used for evil.

On the night of May 10, 1933 the Nazis raided libraries and bookstores across Germany and threw books they considered to be against Nazi doctrine into huge bonfires.

From then on Hitler used words in a massive propaganda campaign taking control of newspapers, magazines, art, music and books with mass censorship and spreading the Nazi ideas which led to the attempted destruction of a whole race.

I find it deeply alarming that this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day is being held against a backdrop of rising anti-semitism, racism and xenophobia throughout Europe.

As senior lecturer in Holocaust studies Trudy Gold says: “We have to face the fact that education has failed to dent prejudice. Where do we go

from here and how can the right words change the way people think?”

Part of the answer of course must lie in education. As Leon and so many other survivors knew, going along to schools and telling children the truth firsthand is vital. That is why, as sadly many of these first generation survivors are now reaching the end of their lives, it is up to second and third generations to follow the example set by Joshua Rocker and keep on telling the survivors’ stories.

For this reason, we must always keep commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day.

We must also all harness the positive power of words to fight cyber-hate, racism and prejudice wherever we see it with positive messages to set the record straight and to promote tolerance and diversity.

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