"I bid farewell to everybody and everything that was dear to me and that I have loved"
9th of May - Victory Day, a victory that 6 million Jews, 3 million of them of Polish citizens, did not live to see.
On a gloomy Sunday morning, beneath a plaque in Porchester Road commemorating Szmul "Artur" Zygielbojm, a small group gathered - a few Holocaust survivors, their friends and several members of the Jewish Socialists' Group, a political organisation campaigning for Jewish rights and the rights of all oppressed minorities in building a socialist future.
The authorities resisted the idea of putting up the memorial plaque for fear of attacks from the British National Party and it took 3 years before it was finally unveiled.
Among the participants is Chaim Nelsen, a teacher of Yiddish and a JSG member. He keeps hold of his guitar from which he is inseparable and with which he can convey both the grief of this murdered nation and the fury of the Jewish fighters. By his side stands Majer Bogdanski, a radiant 92-year-old Bundist from Piotrkow, who had fought in the Polish Army under General Anders' command and finally settled in London's East End to resume his career as a tailor. He has never abandoned his Bundist ideals and his 'mameloshn'. We give each other a warm hug.
All of a sudden a tall elegant man joins the gathering. He is Aleksander Kropiwnicki, an attaché representing the Polish Embassy in London. David Rosenberg, the President of JSG greets him and introduces him to the rest of the group. I run to the nearest shop in the hope of buying a bouquet of white and red flowers, but instantly realise that offering flowers is not a Jewish custom.
It is high noon. We cross the street and enter the local library, which year after year has hosted the ceremony. We sit in a circle. The first one to speak is David Rosenberg. He recounts the tragic life of "Artur", emphasizing that his suicide was not in protest against Shoah - this he did every day - but against the indifference with which the world was permitting the Nazis to exterminate the defenceless nation.
In his short address Aleksander Kropiwnicki talks about Jewish-Polish reconciliation and about his belief that the European Union, which Poland has just joined, will safeguard the world against a repeat of the Holocaust. He concludes his speech with Zygielbojm's own words:
"I wish that the surviving remnants of the several million Polish Jews, together with the Polish population, might live to see the liberation of Poland and to enjoy a world of freedom and socialist justice. I believe that such a Poland will arise and that such a world will come.
Other speakers refer to the heroic resistance of the Warsaw Ghetto fighters and witnesses describe the horrific scenes seen there. David expresses criticism of those apologists who claim that the extent of the atrocities was unknown to them and praises Professor Jan Karski for disclosing the truth about the Shoah. He recalls how the Allies failed to drop leaflets over Germany telling of the atrocities and issuing strong warnings to the Germans, and that nobody cared enough to stage the hunger strike which Szmul Zygielbojm himself was urging British Jews to go on.A painful silence follows.
To conclude the ceremony we return to Porchester Road and light a candle. Next Esther Brunstein, a Shoah survivor from Lodz , reads Zygielbojm's letter first in English and then in Yiddish. We close on a solemn note - "The Partisan Hymn" played with deep feeling by Chaim.
"Zog nit keyn mol, az du geyst dem letsten veg " ("Never say that this is the end of the road").
In April 1943 when news of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising reached the Vilna Ghetto, a young poet, Hirsh Glick wrote this defiant anthem. It was well known in all the concentration camps and has become the universal Hymn of the Holocaust Survivors. The elderly people in the group sing it in Yiddish with such fervour that for a fleeting moment we all feel as though we too are Bundists with a victorious future lying in wait for us.
But there is no such future.All that remains is the memory of a man who did all in his human powers to stir the conscience of the world and the homage that is now being paid to him