Ben Helfgott

The Story of One of the Boys

Freedland, Michael

This is not just the story of another Holocaust survivor. There is nothing about Ben Helfgott that is usual. After all, very few survivors would, just a few years after liberation, become Olympic athletes. He did exactly that. He was a boy growing up in a small Polish town, Pietrkow, when his whole life changed as the Nazis moved in during the first week of the Second World War. As a small child he was top of his class - everything he did was of a standard beyond that of any of his classmates. He learned languages so that he spoke and understood at least three of them before he was eight years old. He read newspapers and watched films that were beyond his years. His sister, the only other member of his family to survive, says that if she or anyone else needed a protector, Ben was the one to call in. Above all, he excelled in sports. He had a wiry frame and was small in stature, but no one else could match him in any game he played. When the Nazis came to Pietrkow, his mother and a sister were shot. He and his father managed to live a kind of life in the ever shrinking ghetto in the town. Both worked in a glass factory and a woodwork plant. Before long, they would be transported to the infamous Buchenwald concentration camp where his father subsequently died. Taken to Thereisenstadt, a centre that had served as a kind of way station for Jews on the way to death camps, it was there that he was liberated by the Red Army. Before long, he was one of 'The Boys' who came to England, which became his home. His sporting excellence was recognised when he was selected for two Olympic Games in which he represented Britain as a weightlifter. He became a successful businessman and retired early so that he could make a personal crusade of bringing together other survivors. He founded the famous 45 Aid Society, worked with the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Holocaust Educational Trust. On the international scene, he, in his mid 80s, is a prominent figure in the Claims Conference, which has awarded billions of dollars to needy survivors. In a way, it is a controversial book. He is a great believer in reconciliation with both Germany and his native Poland - and both nations have made him awards in recognition of his work. It is a story Michael Freedland tells after dozens of interviews with Ben himself, as well as with members of his family, fellow survivors and residents of his old home town in Poland. [Subject: Biography, Holocaust, Claims Conference, Reconciliation]

216 pages

Due: 1/9/2018