I am very proud to have had the opportunity to know and work with Ernest Levy. Ernest lived through the Holocaust, at only 19 he survived seven Nazi concentration camps and losing half his family, including his father, a brother and a sister, before settling in Scotland for the latter 48 years of his life. He became a leading figure in the Scottish Jewish community – and, ultimately, among non-Jews – a synagogue cantor, a teacher, notably about the Holocaust, a passionate humanist and an advocate of inter-faith dialogue.
I met Ernest on many occasions and was always struck by the fact that here was a holocaust survivor talking without hatred and bitterness. Indeed, he said on many occasions, “I owe my life to three Germans. I only ever knew them by their first names.
One was Helmut, a guard who befriended me and brought me water and bread when his fellow guards were occupied.
The second was a German farmer called Max who took pity on the two hundred Jewish prisoners forced to shelter in his barn from the bitter winter snow-showers whilst on a forced march. Courageously, Max ignored orders to the contrary and supplied each prisoner with one boiled potato per day for three weeks.
The third was a nursing sister in the German hospital to which I was taken after the liberation of Belsen. Her name was Emma. ‘You must get your strength back and find your family’, she insisted. I replied, ‘They’re all dead’. ‘Well you are alive, and life is precious!’ said the formidable Sister Emma, and she kissed me on the forehead.”
When British soldiers liberated Belsen, one of them found Ernest, semi-conscious, lying face down in the dust by the perimeter fence. At the one talk I heard Ernest give, an elderly lady asked him if the terrible things he had suffered had changed him in any way. There was a long pause.
“Yes,” Ernest replied quite quietly, “I used to think that God was some Supreme Being who watched what happens in the world from an unsearchable distance. Now I know that God lay with me in the dust of Belsen…”
Ernest Levy was awarded the OBE in 2002. His wife, Kathy, died in 2007. He is survived by son Robert, daughter Judith, a sister, Lilly, and the four grandchildren in whom he put his trust for trying to ensure that the Holocaust is never forgotten, and, most importantly, never repeated.
Judith has gifted his archive to City of Edinburgh’s Library and Information Services.
The archive consists of a large collection of books, manuscripts and music and the library is currently cataloguing the material and undertaking a programme of developing resources for the public so they can access information about Ernest’s experiences.
The first part of this programme is an exhibition that will be held in the Central Library from January 23rd – March 15th 2012. This will use photographs and text from Ernest’s collection to present the story of his life.
If you would like to learn more or support this project please email email@example.com