From Horror to Heroes
One of the privileges of my current job is the many very interesting people I get to meet. Last Friday I was thrilled to be able to share a drink and a meal with eight Battle of Britain fighter pilots. Great names such as Bob Foster, William Walker and Geoffrey Wellum were present and I was able to chat to each of them. They are in no way special in the ordinary sense of the word and you would not spot them in a crowd. They are generally unassuming and modest individuals and certainly do not see themselves as heroes. However, one characteristic which stands out in most of them is their wicked sense of humour. Some of their comments and jokes would no doubt be frowned upon by the “politically correct” crowd which so dominates modern life but it is worth remembering that without their efforts and many like them, the modern politically correct crowd would have no democratic space in which to operate.
Today I met a completely different group which included holocaust survivors and some of the British “liberators” who were the first into the camps at Auschwitz and Belsen. They were around the same age as the first group of Battle of Britain veterans but included mostly Jewish people from across Eastern Europe (Hungary, Poland and Lithuania) and even Berlin.
One of the sweetest ladies was Lilly from Hungary who had survived the horrors of Auschwitz, along with her sister and brother, although she had lost other family members there. She showed me her tattoo of a series of numbers on the lower underside of her left arm, inflicted on her by the Nazi’s to ensure that she could be traced and documented like the slave that she was considered to be by them. I have seen an Auschwitz tattoo before and to be honest I could feel myself welling up again!
I have never been to the site of Auschwitz but I know that people who have are greatly moved by the sense of what happened there. I know that the survivors I have met are the fortunate ones but I cannot help but be moved by the appalling suffering that they embodied standing there before me.
My generation read and heard about the events of World War 2 and we have watched most of the classic films but there is something enormously moving about meeting people that lived it. Whether it be the fighter pilot dashing across the sky in his Spitfire or Hurricane, or the emaciated survivor of a Nazi death camp they are heroes to me.