Updated: Jun 2, 2022
Ahead of the Queen’s Jubilee, I am thinking about the importance of the Royal Family for the lives of our interviewees. I remember very clearly my very first AJR Refugee Voices interview in January 2003 with Elena Lederman, who survived WW2 in hiding in Belgium under very difficult circumstances, together with her young son. Elena came to the UK in 1955 and opened a chocolate business, Elena Chocolates, one of the first people in the UK to import Belgium chocolates. She told me with a twinkle in her eye how she went to Scotland Yard and arranged a visit to the palace, so she could present the chocolates from her new business to Queen Elizabeth and how delighted she was that the Queen and the Queen Mother liked her chocolates and endorsed her venture. Elena also talks about presenting a beautiful box of chocolates on the occasion of the wedding between Prince Charles and Lady Diana, and having tea with the Queen Mother and how she appreciated that the Queen Mother was keen to listen to her story of survival.
The Queen also sometimes appears in the narratives of identity. When Elise Duhl, who came as a young child from Vienna to the UK on her mother’s domestic service visa, was asked about her identity in the interview, she replied:
‘I feel British. I am always grateful for them accepting us here, I am. If I saw the Queen, to speak to her, I would thank her, really. I often thought of writing a letter because, you know, I watched her grow up. And I feel very English and very accepted here, I don’t feel out of place at all.’
The other part of the interviews, where sometimes the Queen or other members of the Royal family appear, is at the end of the interviews, when we film the photographs and documents of the interviewees. It is again with a great sense of pride, that the interviewees share the photos of themselves being awarded a Royal honour, often for their contribution to Holocaust education or other achievements. We have many such photos in our collection.
I am sure if Elena Lederman were still alive she would have prepared a beautiful box of chocolates on the occasion of the Queen's Diamonds Jubilee. So on behalf of our interviewees I would like to wish the Queen a hearty Mazal Tov on her Diamond Jubilee, and thank her and the wider Royal Family for their interest in the Holocaust survivors’ community and their support of Holocaust education in the UK.
Dr Bea Lewkowicz, 1 June 2022