I would like to take this opportunity of thanking you on behalf of myself and my wife for allowing us to play an active role in the Limmud FSU conference that took place in St. Petersburg last September. As a Vice Chairman of the Conference for Material Claims against Germany I appreciated the chance to help mark the 70th anniversary of the invasion of the Soviet Union by Nazi Germany marking beginning of Operation Barbarossa in June 1941, and the resulting murder of millions of our people on the occupied soil.


I was born in Poland. In 1939, when I was nine years old, the Germans invaded Poland and within 2 months we were ordered to move into Ghetto. I survived the deportation to the gas chambers and experienced the war in labor camps and concentration camps and was liberated in Theresienstadt. After being liberated, I came to England together with 732 children. My sister and I were the only members of our family to survive.

 In England as a youth, I took a leading role in the Primrose Jewish Youth Club and subsequently as an adult took an active role in many communal organizations and am proud to have been chairman of the ’45 Aid Society – Holocaust Survivors since 1963.

From my early childhood I was keen on sports and in England I became a champion weightlifter. I was British champion for seven years and represented Britain in the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne and 1960 in Rome, as well as in the Commonwealth Games in 1958. I won gold medals at the Maccabiah Games in Israel in 1950, 1953 and 1957. I was always proud to be both Jewish and British and I saw sports as a manifestation of proud Jewishness in the tradition of Max Nordau’s “Muscular Judaism” (muskel-Judenthum).

 In St Petersburg my wife and I were able to take part in visits to Holocaust survivors who are supported by money from the Claims Conference through the Hessed organizations of the American Joint Jewish Distribution Committee. We also participated in a memorial ceremony in the town of Pushkin, formerly Tsarskoye Selo. The Memorial to the Jews is part of the Pushkin Holocaust Memorial site in memory of those who were killed during the siege of nearby Leningrad, now St. Petersburg, in the Second World War.

I want to thank you for the opportunity I was given to tell my own personal story to a new generation of young Jewish people in the former Soviet Union who are carrying the torch from us of the Holocaust generation and are rebuilding a new revitalized Jewish identity of their own. The Limmud Conference in St Petersburg was very successful and what excited me most was the presence of young Jews from all parts of Russia and their interest and enthusiasm for the project. Let us hope that Limmud we will continue to preserve our heritage in its own unique way. Because of the importance that I attach to Limmud, I hope that the Claims Conference will increase its funding in the years to come.

Best wishes,

Ben Helfgott