Starmer: ‘Sir Ben Helfgott’s life and legacy will be an inspiration to us all’

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Labour leader Keir Starmer has praised the “incredible legacy” of Sir Ben Helfgott and described him as a “giant of the Jewish community” following confirmation of his death on Friday.

Meanwhile, in her own personal tribute Dame Louise Ellman, who returned to Labour under Starmer’s leadership, has also how Sir Ben once urged her to continue her fight against antisemitism in the party during an emotional telephone call after he was left distraught by the slurs the former Liverpool Riverside MP was forced to endure.

Sir Ben Helfgott with Dame Louise Ellman at Board of Deputies event

Responding to news of Sir Ben’s death on Friday, Starmer told Jewish News:”I was deeply saddened to hear about the passing of Sir Ben Helfgott. He was a giant of the Jewish community.

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“He dedicated his life to ensuring that the horrors of the Holocaust and the experiences of its victims are never forgotten.

“His contribution continues to be passed on to future generations, part of the incredible legacy he leaves behind.

“Sir Ben was one of life’s polymaths. He was a hugely accomplished sportsman, representing Britain at the Olympics in weightlifting.

“He was one of only two Holocaust survivors to take part in the Olympics, an extraordinary tribute to his talent and determination.

“Throughout his life, Sir Ben demonstrated compassion and understanding, campaigning for tolerance and peaceful coexistence between communities.

“These are values by which we should all live. His life and legacy will be an inspiration to us all.”

Ellman also revealed how she had met Helfgott soon after she became an MP in 1997 through her involvement in the Holocaust Educational Trust.

“I had heard about his dedication and commitment to using his horrendous experiences to both educate people about the evils of racism and work to bring understanding between people of all backgrounds but talking to him and watching how he brought people together was inspirational,” she told Jewish News.

“We had many discussions about how to combat prejudice and hate and he was particularly distressed about the antisemitism unleashed by Jeremy Corbyn”s leadership of the Labour Party.

“On one occasion he telephoned me, distraught by the latest antisemitic revelation in Labour, urging me to stay and fight.

“I assured him that I would do that for as long as I thought it was effective”

Ellman recalled how Sir Ben’s story, together with that of other young refugees from Nazism, was vividly shown in the remarkable documentary “The Windermere children’.

“I don’t think anyone could have watched that film without shedding tears,” she said.

“The image of Ben, emerging from his family”s horrendous experience, showing determination to live his life to the full, will stay with me forever.”

Sir Ben Helfgott

Ellman, who represents the Jewish Labour Movement on the Board of Deputies added:”Ben was inspirational.

“He and his family suffered horribly yet his life was devoted to building bridges between diverse people.

She said she had been “privileged to know Ben together with his wonderful wife Arza who has shown me such friendship” and that following Helfgott’s death his “remarkable sister Malia and all the family will be devastated.”

Ellman added:”They should take some comfort in knowing that Ben was inspirational to so many. He showed humanity how it is possible to create hope out of the ashes of evil. I will miss Ben and  I will never forget him.”

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