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 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.