We were thrilled when children’s author, Tom Palmer, contacted us with an offer to write a short story connected with our exhibition The Boys: Holocaust Survivors in the Epping Forest District.
Tom’s book After the War tells the story of the Boys and their arrival in England to begin their journey to recovery from the terrible experiences of the Holocaust on the shores of Lake Windermere.
Tom researched material for this story, speaking to historians such as Trevor Avery of the Lake District Holocaust Project, as well as local people who still remember the boys to make sure his story reflected their lives and experiences with as much historical accuracy as possible. It was important to Tom to do justice to the story of the boys this way. He includes photographs he used in his research in his book so you can see the evidence for yourself.
The three main characters in After the War are Yossi, Mordecai and Leo. They are composite characters, but elements of their lives are all based on what happened to the real boys.
Tom wanted to write a story about one of the actual boys for us and we decided to focus on Sir Ben Helfgott, whose story is so incredible it is almost hard to believe it is true. Ben survived the Holocaust, describing himself as a ‘walking skeleton’ when the war finally ended, and the camps were liberated. Yet, within ten years of his arrival in Britain he captained the British Weightlifting Team at the 1956 and 1960 Olympic Games. And, even more incredibly, in 1948 he found his sister Mala had also survived the Holocaust and they were reunited.
We had the privilege of meeting Ben, Mala and their families at reunion of the Boys held at the museum and at Holmehurst, the house where Ben and his friend came to stay in the district. We are very grateful that Ben and his family gave us permission to tell his story, to keep inspiring future generations with this story of survival and hope.