Holocaust Memorial Day special feature: It happened ... we were there and we can't let you forget

As we mark Holocaust Memorial Day, Virginia Mason talks to a Calderdale couple who have their own special reasons for remembering

THE theme of this year's national Holocaust Mem-orial Day is remember, reflect and react.

And no one will be embracing that more than Val and Ibi Ginsburg, of Elland.

Val – Waldemar – is now 85 and Ibi – Ibolya – is two years younger. To describe them as survivors would be an understatement.

Along with millions of other Jews during the Second World War they endured the horrors of the Holocaust, incarcerated by the Nazis in the notorious death camps of Poland.

But they somehow found the strength to go on.

And when the Allies finally moved in to liberate places like Auschwitz and Dachau, they found some, including Val and Ibi, had managed to cling on to life.

More than six decades on the couple are determined that the world will remember.

It will not forget this episode in history, a regime of pure hatred, of man's inhumanity to his fellow man.

The couple are often called upon to tell their story – their "message" – to whoever is prepared to listen, regularly speaking at meetings and conferences throughout the country and going into schools to speak to young people.

"We are not educators but we are witnesses and we try to explain what happened. Only by doing that can you try and dispel ignorance," says Ibi.

"Some people may think our experiences happened a long time ago, but they are still relevant in what is happening in the world today," adds Val.

"There is still hatred in the world, still mass murder, still genocide. Look at Darfur and Sudan. The world has not learned its lesson."

Their stories began in the summer of 1940 when Val's homeland of Lithuania was occupied. He was held in the ghettos of its capital, Kaunas, then found himself facing the nightmare of Dachau. He was 19.

"Many of my family were killed in the ghettos but of our entire Jewish community – about 35,000 – only 2,000 were still alive after the liberation," he says.

As the Allies moved ever nearer to Dachau, the Nazis set about moving the camp and Val was among those forced to endure a notorious "death march".

Ibi was also on a death march.

Her plight began when she was taken to Auschwitz at the age of 19.

Her mother and two youngest sisters were gassed on arrival and her father taken to Maut-hausen, another infamous camp.

At Auschwitz she managed to stay with her surviving sister, Judith, 13, and the pair were put to work. She was later sent to a satellite camp of Dachau and then on the march.

After the liberation in 1945, Val was in such a poor state that she had to be treated in a German hospital. When Ibi went to work there, the two quickly became friends and fell in love. They were married a year later and in 1948 moved to England to begin a new life.

Val is the cousin of Lady Margaret Kagan, widow of Joseph Kagan, founder of the Elland Gannex Mills. He and Ibi worked for the textile company until their 60s.

They only started telling their story recently. It started because their two daughters, Pauline and Mandy, began to ask why they had no family.

"How do you begin to explain that they were murdered?" asks Val. "We told them a modified version when they were young but, of course, over the years they have come to know the complete truth."

"I really only began talking to people outside the family about what happened perhaps about 13 or 14 years ago when we had the first Holocaust denial stories coming out," says Ibi.

"I thought 'I am not having this. It did happen, I was there.'"

The couple now work closely with the Beth Shalom Centre Holocaust Memorial Centre in Nottingham and three years ago, on the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, they were presented to the Queen.

"We feel obliged to carry on telling our stories because we were eye-witnesses. The most important thing is to tell people this can never happen again," says Val.

"But there is ignorance," says Ibi. "You cannot always accuse the young people of being ignorant because they are still being educated but there are gen- erations who should know better."

Their testimonies have also been videotaped by the Steven Spielberg Shoah Foundation, set up in 1994.

"But it is not the same as having us here telling them.

"Who knows what will happen when we and the others aren't around to act as witnesses?" asks Val. "The world should never forget these stories. That is why, while ever people are prepared to listen, we are prepared to talk."

Special service of remembrance

HOLOCAUST Memorial Day on Sunday will be marked by a special service at Halifax Parish Church when the guest preacher will be Rabbi Brian Fox, of Manchester, and readings will be in English, Hebrew and Arabic.

"This is a day for us all to remember what happened and to reflect," says the vicar of Halifax, Hilary Barber.

"The service will be an opportunity for everyone to come together, those of the Christian faith, those of a different faith and those of no faith. Everyone is welcome." The service starts at 10.30am. It started because their two daughters, Pauline and Mandy, began to ask why they had no family.

“How do you begin to explain that they were murdered?” asks Val. “We told them a modified version when they were young but, of course, over the years they have come to know the complete truth.”

“I really only began talking to people outside the family about what happened perhaps about 13 or 14 years ago when we had the first Holocaust denial stories coming out,” says Ibi.

“I thought ‘I am not having this. It did happen, I was there.’”

The couple now work closely with the Beth Shalom Centre Holocaust Memorial Centre in Nottingham and three years ago, on the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, they were presented to the Queen.

“We feel obliged to carry on telling our stories because we were eye-witnesses. The most important thing is to tell people this can never happen again,” says Val.

“But there is ignorance,” says Ibi. “You cannot always accuse the young people of being ignorant because they are still being educated but there are generations who should know better.”

Their testimonies have also been videotaped by the Steven Spielberg Shoah Foundation, set up in 1994.

“But it is not the same as having us here telling them.

“Who knows what will happen when we and the others aren’t around to act as witnesses?” asks Val.

“The world should never forget these stories. That is why, while ever people are prepared to listen, we are prepared to talk.”