Just months before it hosts the Summer Olympics, England is saluting one of its oldest former athletes — a Holocaust survivor who represented the country at a pair of Games after World War II.
Ben Helfgott, an 82-year-old former weightlifter, will be honored by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles this month at the Jewish Living Expo, a first-time event taking place at London’s Wembley Stadium. Helfgott, who survived the Buchenwald, Schlieben and Theresienstadt concentration camps, immigrated after the war to England, where he began training in 1948. He’s believed to be the only Holocaust survivor to compete in two Olympics, lifting for England at the 1956 Melbourne Games and again in Rome four years later.
“I was the only survivor competing in 1956, but I believe there would have been many more Jewish competitors if so many young lives had not been cut short by the Nazis,” Helfgott said in a statement released by organizers of the Expo, scheduled for March 18. “When I was marching in the opening ceremony I was also thinking of my parents, who would have been so proud — particularly that I was representing a country like Britain.”
Born in Poland, Helfgott has served as president of England’s Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and as a trustee of the Holocaust Educational Trust. The ceremony honoring him will feature video presentations by former prime minister Tony Blair and Labour Party MK David Miliband.