Holocaust Educational Trust Ambassador Blog

This year’s annual Ambassador Conference saw a series of fascinating insights for the keen readers in our Ambassador community. Both David Baddiel and Jonathan Freedland brought fresh and interesting ideas to conversations about their respective books, Jews Don’t Count and The Escape Artist. Ambassadors in attendance were excited to receive a copy of both books to continue to develop our understanding!

In conversation with Karen Pollock CBE, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, comedian and writer David Baddiel spoke of feeling compelled to write his Sunday Times best-selling polemic Jews Don’t Count. Baddiel argues that antisemitism is a form of racism that is far too often left out of the fight for equality. Whilst the book employs a range of political and historical examples, Baddiel’s book is grounded in personal experience. His grandfather, Ernst, was a German Jew who fled Poland just weeks before the Nazis invaded.

Many Ambassadors in the audience were surprised to learn that they and Baddiel shared a pivotal experience – taking part in the Lessons from Auschwitz Project, run by the Trust. He spoke of his previous fear about visiting the site, but regarded it as an “incredible experience” that was “at once both depressing and wonderful”.

Whilst Baddiel’s book is full of examples from the past, he emphasised that the millennia-old problem of antisemitism still manifests itself loudly in the present. With incidents such as the deadly mass shooting in Illinois’ Highland Park, an area heavily populated by the Jewish community, occurring since the publication of his book, we are reminded that antisemitism has not been eradicated and should be treated with the same level of gravity as any other form of racism.

After some time to reflect and chat about our experiences as Ambassadors, we returned to a fantastic lecture from author and journalist Jonathan Freedland, whose recently published book The Escape Artist has topped the publishing charts. I had heard from Jonathan at a prior event, celebrating the launch of his book – having gotten only a glimpse into the story, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to learn more.

The Escape Artist follows the story of nineteen-year-old Rudolf Vrba who (along with fellow inmate Fred Wetzler) became the first Jew to escape from Auschwitz-Birkenau. Freedland gave a captivating insight into Vrba’s journey and the horrors he witnessed in the camp. When Vrba realised what was really happening at Auschwitz – that people were arriving and quickly disappearing – he became more and more determined to break out and warn the world of the fate that awaited the Jews of Europe.

I was privileged to speak to Freedland about his writing process, curious about how he was able to write a book that was totally grounded in fact but read like fiction. He explained that Vrba’s story was almost unbelievable in itself – that, whilst it was imperative for him to stay true to history, the story actually made for a totally shocking and gripping book all on its own.

In a thrilling and incredibly fast-paced read, Freedland cements Vrba’s story into the history of the Holocaust, making for a book that you really cannot put down. Rudolf Vrba’s legacy is known by few and Freedland’s passion for passing on his story radiates from the pages of The Escape Artist.

Hearing from two incredible authors was undoubtedly a highlight for many Ambassadors attending this year’s Ambassador Conference. Both David Baddiel and Jonathan Freedland reminded us all of our part to play in the ongoing journey of fighting antisemitism and preserving the memory of the Holocaust. Telling these stories of individual heroism and personal experience helps us to rehumanise the Holocaust, something we as Ambassadors must always try to emulate in our own efforts to Pass It On.

By Evie Robinson