Holocaust survivor Rabbi Gryn dies

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The Independent Online
Rabbi Hugo Gryn, who died yesterday aged 66, was one of the last survivors of the Holocaust to play a role in public life. Only about 100,000 Jews em-erged alive from the camps in 1945; yet some of the survivors brought an extraordinary sweetness, as Rabbi Gryn did, into the world.

Born in the Carpathian mountains, he emerged from Auschwitz aged 15, with his father who died almost immediately after they were liberated. After working as a rabbi in New York and Bombay, he became rabbi of the West London synagogue in Mayfair, the largest and most fashionable reform Jewish synagogue in England; in his work on Radio 4's The Moral Maze he became one of the most respected religious broadcasters in the country.

Rabbi Gryn's friend and colleague, Rabbi Albert Friedlander, said yesterday that for many of the camp survivors, "it was a very lonely existence, because they were pushed away by the society in which they lived".

Dr Friedlander, who himself came to Britain as a child to escape Nazi persecution, said: "People were afraid of the survivors, or held them in awe, or did not want to know. Elie Wiesel, a camp survivor and writer who won the Nobel peace prize, would say that for many years what would hurt most was that he was not believed."

A disproportionate number of notable camp survivors were writers, partly because the injunction to write and to record was passed down through the camps; partly because writing was a skill which interfered very little with the work of survival. Most of the musicians and artists who entered the camps seem to have perished there.

Dr Friedlander pointed out that most of the greatest writers later killed themselves. "So many of them made major contributions, and then committed suicide - Primo Levi, Paul Celan, Piotr Rawicz, Terence de Pres.

"If it had not been for the Holocaust, I am convinced that none would have committed suicide ... there was a remaining pain trapped inside them, like an embolism. There were withdrawals when they wanted to be left alone. But I knew all those writers, and I found them to be more humane than most."

Dr Friedlander and his wife, Evelyn, who are both active in the work of reconciliation, say survivors in some ways often found it easier to forgive than did others of their generation.

"Hugo was one of the rare people who somehow seemed to rise beyond it," Evelyn Friedlander said. "People who have suffered are much more able to deal with reconciliation. Jews who have had no connection with it can't begin to deal with it; whereas among the people who had suffered there is perhaps a need in themselves to be able to overcome the bitterness."

Dr Friedlander said: "I think the survivors on the whole had much more compassion and understanding. A sizeable number of those people, like Hugo, understood the frailties of people but did not carry around a load of hatred.

"Those people who are the most unforgiving and full of hatred were those who were never in the camps, but will never now buy a Mercedes. Those who were in the camps were sweeter, kinder. Of course, there were many who came out of there totally embittered. But they did not make much of a contribution, and the others did."