North London Holocaust survivors become MBEs in 2020 New Year’s Honours list

PUBLISHED: 22:30 27 December 2019

Ruth Barnett talks to schoolchildren about her escape from the Nazis. Picture: Ruth Barnett

Ruth Barnett talks to schoolchildren about her escape from the Nazis. Picture: Ruth Barnett


Those working hard to tell younger generations of the horrors they experienced during the Holocaust are among the north Londoners to receive gongs in this year’s New Year’s Honours list.

John Hajdu, who has been chair of the Muswell Hill and Fortis Green Association for 19 years. Picture: John HajduJohn Hajdu, who has been chair of the Muswell Hill and Fortis Green Association for 19 years. Picture: John Hajdu

Longstanding Muswell Hill community figure John Hajdu and West Hampstead's Ruth Barnett both become MBEs, as does Muswell Hill man Lesley Brent - although sadly his award is a posthumous one, as he died on December 21.

East Finchley couple Marianne and Peter Summerfield and Highgate's Lillian Levy were also appointed MBEs for their services to Holocaust education and awareness, as was St John's Wood man Paul Simon Phillips.

John, 82, who survived both the German and Soviet occupations of Hungary, told the Ham&High: "I'm very, very happy! We are speechless."

John, who told this newspaper of his escape from Hungary in the 1950s earlier this year, added: "You know my story and what I have been through, I would never have ever expected to be given this award."

John continued by explaining why he enjoys going into schools. He said: "I always tell the kids, who would have thought I would be standing here in front of you, 60 years later. It's incredible, I'm a survivor."

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Meanwhile Ruth, 84, just a toddler when she came to England on the Kindertransport in 1938, said: "I'm obviously very pleased that my work in Holocaust education is being recognised, particularly given we don't seem to have made much progress towards stopping war and genocide."

The former teacher and psychotherapist added: "I really value going into schools and other groups to get them thinking. I try to get them thinking about how they would like the world to be. We have international laws to stop genocide but we can't use them because we have untouchable rogue leaders in many countries."

Lesley Brent, who died at 94 after a distinguished career as a professor of immunology, also lived through the darkest moments of the 1930s and 40s. His widow Carol told this newspaper: "Of course I was hugely proud of him." The Brents moved to Muswell Hill from Tufnell Park three years ago.

Carol continued: "He did know about this award and he was delighted."

Olivia Marks-Woldman, chief executive of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, said: "Having experienced unthinkable trauma and loss at the hands of the Nazis, these remarkable individuals now dedicate so much of their time to sharing their testimony.

"Their efforts to share their experiences have an immeasurable impact, both honouring their loved ones who were murdered by the Nazis, and teaching about the dangers of prejudice, intolerance and hatred.

"This is a fitting time for the announcement, almost 75 years after the liberation of the most notorious Nazi death camp, Auschwitz, and as survivors are becoming fewer and less able to share their testimony."

Additional reporting by PA Media.

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