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The Prince of Wales has hailed a “living memorial” of seven of Britain’s remaining Holocaust survivors, saying their portraits will stand as a “permanent reminder” of the “depths of depravity” and help to ensure such horror never happens again.
The Prince, who commissioned the portraits and attended their unveiling at a Buckingham Palace exhibition, said the “special collection” of paintings would remind the world of “history’s darkest days”.
The portraits will be held in the Royal Collection, capturing a generation of survivors now in their 90s.
“They stand as a living memorial to the six million innocent men, women, and children whose stories will never be told, whose portraits will never be painted,” the Prince wrote in a foreword to the exhibition.
“They stand as a powerful testament to the quite extraordinary resilience and courage of those who survived and who, despite their advancing years, have continued to tell the world of the unimaginable atrocities they witnessed.
“They stand as a permanent reminder for our generation – and indeed, to future generations – of the depths of depravity and evil humankind can fall to when reason, compassion and truth are abandoned.”
He added: “As the number of Holocaust survivors sadly, but inevitably, declines, my abiding hope is that this special collection will act as a further guiding light for our society, reminding us not only about history’s darkest days, but of humanity’s interconnectedness as we strive to create a better world for our children, grandchildren and generations as yet unborn; one where hope is victorious over despair and love triumphs over hate.”
The Prince and the Duchess of Cornwall attended the opening of the Queen’s Gallery exhibition on Monday, meeting the subjects of the portraits and their proud families.
Lily Ebert, who is 98, showed the Prince the number tattoo forced on her in Auschwitz, and a pendant given to her by her late mother which she managed to keep by hiding it in her shoe and - when that heel wore out - a daily ration of bread.
She told the Prince: “Meeting you, it is for everyone who lost their lives.”
The Prince, who appeared emotional, leant forwards to clasp her shoulder and insist: “But it is a greater privilege for me.”
Mrs Ebert also met the Duchess of Cornwall, who thanked her for taking part in the event.
“It’s an absolutely lovely portrait,” said the Duchess. “And what’s wonderful is that it is here forever [in the Royal Collection].”
The project, which was personally devised by the Prince, also captures survivors Helen Aronson, Manfred Goldberg, Arek Hersh, Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, Rachel Levy and Zigi Shipper.
Their portraits were created over the course of a year, via the Prince’s Drawing School, by artists Paul Benney, Ishbel Myerscough, Clara Drummond, Massimiliano Pironti, Peter Kuhfeld, Stuart Pearson Wright and Jenny Saville.
Mr Shipper, 92, spent the early part of the war in a ghetto doing slave labour, before being sent on a cattle truck to Auschwitz in 1944.
Deemed fit for work, he was sent to Stutthof concentration camp near Danzig and survived. He has spent the last 30 years speaking to young people to educate them about the horrors of intolerance and persecution.
The Prince told Mr Shipper: “I am so pleased this has been possible, to get you painted.
“I was so worried. I wanted to capture as many [of you] as we could. To remember what you have been through.”
The project has taken place throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown, with artists going to great lengths to protect the nonagenarians by using photographs, video calls, working outside and wearing PPE.
Olivia Marks-Woldman, chief executive of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, said: “His Royal Highness has created something profoundly meaningful and hope-giving.
“Those who were once targeted for murder for who they were – are today honoured in these immortal portraits displayed at Buckingham Palace.”
The project is the subject of a 60-minute BBC Two documentary, Survivors: Portraits of the Holocaust, which will be screened on January 27, Holocaust Memorial Day.