Joe Perl – A Tribute on Holocaust Memorial Day

The 27th January 2010 marked the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp.  The day also marked the annual International Holocaust Day.  On this day, a number of students, former students, teachers, friends and family, came together to mark the incredible work of Joe Perl and his wife, Sylvia.  Joe was one of the lucky ones.  He survived the Holocaust of the Jews.  However, many of his relatives, including his young nieces and nephews were not so lucky.  A few members of Joe’s family did survive and in the 1960s he was reunited with them in Budapest.

Joe Perl

Joe Perl

Joe has dedicated his life to speaking about his experiences and the tragedy the Holocaust inflicted upon so many.  He has spent so much of his life speaking to children, capturing their minds, all in an attempt to ensure such a Holocaust never happens again.  I was fortunate to meet Joe some ten years ago while I was a student at Calthorpe Park School, and then again on several subsequent occasions.  I was asked to pay tribute to Joe last week and although my words will never do him or his wife justice, this was my attempt to say thank you:

When I was asked to speak tonight, I did not hesitate to agree. I am Charlotte Jones and I left Calthorpe Park School in 2002.  I was fortunate to meet Joe, and his lovely wife Sylvia, on several occasions throughout my time in education.  I have been told that time is unfortunately limited as we have rather a lot to get through this evening.  However, I would like to say a few words of personal thanks to Joe and Sylvia before we begin to hear a number of tributes from both those who are here and those who were unable to attend this evening.

The first time I met Joe was on the school’s annual Holocaust Day.  My peers and I were ages thirteen and fourteen.  Being a keen history and religious studies student, I was naturally interested in listening to Joe’s story.  However, as I am sure many others will echo this evening, it proved to be a poignant moment for everyone, even those will little interest in academics.  Even those who often bordered on the verge of insolence, sat quietly, in shock and listened to the events of Joe’s life unfold.  All were very much aware that these tales were not simply a story, but a tragedy and until this day I am sure that those former students who had the privilege to listen to Joe speak, know the importance of Holocaust education.  After all, the day students meet Joe changes their lives.  Years later, at they watch the news, or read a newspaper, they will not simply switch it off, or put it down, simply moving on.  Instead, with the memory of Joe in the back of their head, they will really think about world events and contemplate the motivations and regrettable actions of others.

I would like to also briefly talk about the incredibly positive role Joe played in my life and the influence he and Sylvia have had on my studies and post-education career.  Being particularly enthusiastic about religious studies I decided to study it as an extra GCSE after school.  In my first year I studied Christianity, and then in my second, my interest in Judaism was finally indulged.  Joe and Sylvia returned to speak to our small group one Wednesday afternoon.  With them they brought a number of traditional Jewish dishes.  I think it was that day I fell in love with Jewish food and Jewish culture.

In 2002 I graduated from University College London with a degree in East European History, a degree which regularly indulged my passion for Jewish culture and history.  Then, last year, I set up my own website on which I write articles about East European travel, culture and food.  Every time I write something about Jewish kipferl biscuits, or the almond cake I have become so fond of, and who could forget chicken soup, indeed every time I photograph a synagogue, I remember Joe and Sylvia fondly.  My words can truly not do justice to how much I value having been fortunate enough to have spent time with you both.  However, as an historian and journalist, words are my only tool, so I say thank you Joe, thank you Sylvia.  You have inspired me, and provoked more thought and contemplation, in me and so many others, than you could probably ever imagine.

Other tributes to Joe were paid by the Holocaust Education Trust, Aylesbury Grammar School, Welland Park Community College, Christchurch High School, Beaverwood Technology College, Leventhorpe School, Berkhampstead School, Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks (read by Rabbi Salaznik), Thamar Barnett, Education Officer at the Jewish Museum and Ruth-Anne Lenga from the University of London (read by Rachel Hamalienko).

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About Charlotte J

Graduate, journalist, blogger and follower of all things media.