A true tale to mark Holocaust Day.
I grew up in the Rhondda Valley, a place in South Wales where there was a strong mining community and famed for its talented singing with the Treorchy male voice choir and also for the birth place of actors Glynn Houston and Stanley Baker.
When I was 15 my grandmother Gwyneth Price (known as Dolly) who was a strong matriarch in the family and the local community, looked after her brother Hector Manning in the end stages of his lung cancer. Hector [also known as Willie] returned to Penygraig Wales to die, after living in London for many years. During this time when he was extremely ill, he asked me to get a shoebox from the bedroom. Inside were the most distressing photographs I'd ever seen, they were photographs taken inside Bergen-Belsen Camp in Germany at the time of their liberation. The pictures were taken by an American photographer who was there at the time and worked for Time magazine my great uncle could not recall his name. My great uncle was in the Royal Army Medical Corps and was one of the first into the camp. I asked him why he'd kept these photos for so many years and he told me that one day people would try and say that this had never happened. I found this hard to believe looking at the horrors on the photographs in front of me. During the liberation he became ill after contracting typhus a condition that any of those in the camp had already succumbed to along with the torture and brutality that was inflicted upon the prisoners within the camp. It was obvious that this experience had left a mark upon him and he spoke with compassion and still disbelief at how cruel man could be to his fellow man.
Prior to the liberation of Bergen –Belsen Hector was a member of the XV International Brigade in Spain. He joined the group of volunteers who were fighting in the Spanish Civil War against the Franco regime and fascism. In the period between 1937 and 1938 he was injured three times in battle at Brunete, Belchite and Ebro.
Hector sadly died of lung cancer in Wales in 1979 he was clearly a man of principle and compassion and fought bravely for what he believed in. I left home in 1982 a few years later to pursue a nursing career in London.Many years passed and I was busy with my career and enjoying my time in London I never really gave a thought about the photos. Then I met Ray who was Jewish and from Manchester we married in London in 1986 and I entered the Jewish phase of my life and had three children. It was during this period I met many people who had been directly affected by the holocaust. I wondered what had happened to the photos as by now I'd began to realize their importance. The photos were now in the possession of a family member Lesley Williams, himself an ex-army man who had given service to his country. He still lived in Penygraig with his wife Lillian. The photographs were given to me by Lillian which numbered at least 50. I explained to her that these pictures were going to be given to the Jewish Community to decide where best they should go. I then gave them to Rabbi Singer who was the Rabbi at the King David School in Birmingham where my children attended. He immediately contacted the British Holocaust museum in London who sent a courier the same day to collect them due to their historical significance. The photographs were used in subsequent documentaries including the liberation of Bergen Belsen. They are now in the custody of the museum as a photographic record of the events at the time liberation in April 1945
"May their memories always be for a blessing”
More details of the welsh volunteers HERE.