Joe,

Thank you so much for your inspiring memories when you have visited us at Westfield. The hundreds of students who have heard you speak have never forgotten your story – not just your memories of the Holocaust but also your bravery after the war and your example of living your life to the full.

To students at Westfield this message has been truly special. We have students from all over the world, some with difficult home lives, but all have been inspired by your example. I can honestly say that you have made a huge difference to the students and staff at Westfield.

Allowing us to put your name to our Citizenship Award, and presenting the award each November, has always been a special moment for all of us, and I know that it is always eagerly anticipated and regarded as something special by the students.

Your book is always in demand in our Library, and has been used in our teaching of the Holocaust and Human Rights.

Thank you to both you and Sylvia for giving your time and memories to us, and Happy Birthday!

Peter Creber
Vice Principal
Westfield Community Technology College

Josef Perl is a survivor’s survivor.

He came to the United Kingdom 65 years ago at the age of 15, having
spent most of World War II in concentration camps.

His experiences during the war included seeing his mother, most of
his sisters, his niece and all his nephews murdered by the Nazis. On
one occasion, he was sentenced by the Nazis to be hung. He was shot
while escaping from the Nazis and limps to this day.

Joe is not the only survivor in this country and, therefore, why do I
call him a survivor’s survivor? In what way is he different to so
many others?

It is because of the many visits he has made to schools, not just in
his own locale, but at distances of 100 miles, speaking of his
experiences and encouraging pupils, mainly of a secondary school age,
to be tolerant of and to stand up for the other person, irrespective
of race and creed.

Joe is a deeply believing Jew and he is a humanitarian with an
extremely positive attitude to life. Many times, he has said that he
is the luckiest man alive.

I am amazed at the number of people, many now in their 20s or 30s,
and some of whom have met Joe just once or twice, but their lives have
been at least touched by Joe, and quite a few of them have been
inspired by Joe in their choice of university study or career.

In Judaism, we speak of ‘ben shmonim l’gevurah’ – a person of 80 has
special strength. This refers not just to a divine gift of natural
strength and vigour but also to a spiritual strength. Joe, positive,
looking forward, while at the same time rooted firmly in the past of
his pre-war childhood, is blessed with that combination of natural
vigour and spiritual strength.
- Rabbi Salasnik, Bushey & District Synagogue

It is the way of the world that people are remembered less for who they are, and more for the things they have done. And yet, the fact that I am writing this speaks far more about Josef Perl as a person, than any of the numerous trials he has overcome ever could. Having met the man over 10 years ago as a schoolboy studying the Holocaust, it was his emotions in telling his story that have imprinted themselves so vividly in my mind.

My own grandfather passed away before I was of an age where he could tell me his own. Of how he fought in the Philippine resistance against the Japanese Occupation in WWII, of how he was temporarily blinded – everything. To me, the stories of him that my relatives told since could just as easily have been about somebody else. It was missing an emotional connection. Josef Perl may not have fought in the Philippines, but hearing the gravitas in his voice of one who has experienced such life-threatening danger as they have faced brought all of it together. All of a sudden it made sense, it all felt real – it all felt personal and intimate. I can imagine my grandfather today, for all my memories of him being such a humble soft-spoken man, and understand exactly why his voice was just so: why his eyes had that look inside them. Because I felt the same in Josef Perl’s.

The world has moved on since 1945: we are in the midst of the Age of Information where far more is readily available to us. And yet, so much is at risk of being lost. Yes, the world will remember the facts, but will it remember the feeling? For the fortunate who have had the privilege of meeting Josef Perl, his voice has made that feeling unforgettable and clear.

If you tell them, they will forget.
If you show them, they will remember.
If you involve them, they will understand.

For that he will always have my unreserved admiration and respect.

In a world that often seems too large to see how much impact a single person can make on the world, it is a measure of the man that Josef Perl will never need to search. It’s in the eyes of anyone who has heard his story. It is here, in these words. Most importantly, it will always be kept alive in the actions of those who he has inspired.
- Jared Cajiuat

When I was asked to speak tonight, I did not hesitate to agree. I am Charlotte Jones and I left Calthorpe Park School in 2002. I was fortunate to meet Joe, and his lovely wife Sylvia, on several occasions throughout my time in education. I have been told that time is unfortunately limited as we have rather a lot to get through this evening. However, I would like to say a few words of personal thanks to Joe and Sylvia before we begin to hear a number of tributes from both those who are here and those who were unable to attend this evening.

The first time I met Joe was on the school’s annual Holocaust Day. My peers and I were ages thirteen and fourteen. Being a keen history and religious studies student, I was naturally interested in listening to Joe’s story. However, as I am sure many others will echo this evening, it proved to be a poignant moment for everyone, even those will little interest in academics. Even those who often bordered on the verge of insolence, sat quietly, in shock and listened to the events of Joe’s life unfold. All were very much aware that these tales were not simply a story, but a tragedy and until this day I am sure that those former students who had the privilege to listen to Joe speak, know the importance of Holocaust education. After all, the day students meet Joe changes their lives. Years later, at they watch the news, or read a newspaper, they will not simply switch it off, or put it down, simply moving on. Instead, with the memory of Joe in the back of their head, they will really think about world events and contemplate the motivations and regrettable actions of others.

I would like to also briefly talk about the incredibly positive role Joe played in my life and the influence he and Sylvia have had on my studies and post-education career. Being particularly enthusiastic about religious studies I decided to study it as an extra GCSE after school. In my first year I studied Christianity, and then in my second, my interest in Judaism was finally indulged. Joe and Sylvia returned to speak to our small group one Wednesday afternoon. With them they brought a number of traditional Jewish dishes. I think it was that day I fell in love with Jewish food and Jewish culture.

In 2002 I graduated from University College London with a degree in East European History, a degree which regularly indulged my passion for Jewish culture and history. Then, last year, I set up my own website on which I write articles about East European travel, culture and food. Every time I write something about Jewish kipferl biscuits, or the almond cake I have become so fond of, and who could forget chicken soup, indeed every time I photograph a synagogue , I remember Joe and Sylvia fondly. My words can truly not do justice to how much I value having been fortunate enough to have spent time with you both. However, as an historian and journalist, words are my only tool, so I say thank you Joe, thank you Sylvia. You have inspired me, and provoked more thought and contemplation, in me and so many others, than you could probably ever imagine.
- Charlotte Jones

You can read the article that Charlotte wrote about Josef here.

Josef Perl's book,
Faces in the Smoke

A letter from Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks.