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The Ultimate Act of Kindness

“The ultimate act of kindness.” This is how the United Synagogue describes the burial of six unknown Holocaust victims, which will take place this Sunday at Bushey cemetery, just outside London.

When I first read about the burial, I admit I was confused. What was the point?

Speaking to others didn’t help. None of us seemed to ‘get it’. A container of ash and bone fragments, originating from Auschwitz-Birkenau, apparently discovered within a clod of earth brought back by a visiting survivor years ago, has been handed over to the United Synagogue by the Imperial War Museum (IWM).

The piece of earth had been tested by pathologists who identified the remains of six people, including one child. And then it went into the archives of the IWM, who were unsure of what to do with it. I suspect it may have been rediscovered recently as the museum prepares for its new Holocaust galleries, due to open in 2021.

So that’s the background – but why the burial? Reading the letter from HRH Prince Charles written to the Chief Rabbi ahead of the ceremony this weekend, helped me understand:

My mother, Paulette, was a hidden child. Born in France in 1938, she was sent to a Jewish children’s home outside of Paris and ended up hidden by Catholic nuns until she was found by a surviving brother after the war ended. Her parents, brother Nathan and her twin sister Annette were all murdered at Auschwitz. Annette was only six years old.

Mum died in 2010 and is buried at Bushey cemetery. Now I 'get it'…. There is a chance that those remains might belong to her mother, father, brother or twin sister. Or perhaps one of her many aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbours or friends who also died at Auschwitz. And that they will be buried in the same cemetery. Now wouldn’t that be the ultimate act of kindness?

When I go to visit my mother’s grave, I also visit my paternal grandparents’ grave. And now I will be able to visit the grave of the six Holocaust survivors too in memory of my maternal grandparents, uncle and aunt.

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