AT THE tender age of 10, Ben Helfgott’s childhood was brought to an abrupt end when the onset of the Second World War hit in 1939.
His community in Poland was brutally murdered by the Nazi’s and he found himself in death camps in which just a handful of his friends and family survived.
But having survived, he was sent to Britain where he ensured he made the most of what he called ‘his second chance at life’ and went on to make history as the only known Holocaust survivor to compete in the Olympics.
The 82-year-old, who moved to Harrow in 1970 said: “To me, my life was a gift. I was lucky to survive and it was a second chance at a life. I had to make the most of it, so I was always keeping very busy.
“I was always very passionate about sport and study so I would train around four and a half hours a week, be up until 2am reading and then get up for work at 7am.”
He continued: “Before the War I went to school and there were 45 children in my class. Two of us survived. Out of 24 cousins in my family three of them survived.
“My friends, brutally killed. My mother and little sister killed with 530 others, in December 1942. My father was killed in Germany, in the death march with a few others, and buried like a dog somewhere, there is no trace of him.
“I always felt I had to make the most of my life.”
A keen sportsman from a very early age, Mr Helfgott enjoyed his liberation by playing sports and took up weightlifting because it was ‘about mind over matter’, something he had tragically had to become used to.
In 1956 he got his chance to compete in Melbourne, where he made history as the only known Holocaust survivor to compete in the Olympics.
He went on to travel the world to six more Olympics in an official capacity.
Mr Helfgott has been the chairman of the 45 Aid Holocaust Survivors Group for the past 49 years.
He will be taking part in Jewish Cultural Institute, Spiro Ark’s, Jews in Sport series on Wednesday at Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue and says he is always happy to talk about his life.
The father-of-three and grandfather-of-nine said: “I have always felt that I had to tell people what happened and do everything to stop it happening again. I will always do whatever I can to bring more harmony and peace to this world, to explain that whilst you might not like someone you can never hate people as a group.”