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Teenage filmmaker keeps promise to share story of late Redbridge Holocaust survivor Leon Greenman

PUBLISHED: 15:00 23 January 2018 | UPDATED: 09:02 30 January 2018

Leon Greenman at an anti-fascist protest. Photo: The Jewish Museum

Leon Greenman at an anti-fascist protest. Photo: The Jewish Museum

Archant

Around one hundred people met for the premier of a film tracing the life of a late Holocaust survivor and campaigner from Redbridge.

Teenage filmmaker Joshua Rocker, 19, debuted his first documentary “Leon Greenman - Survivor” at the Jewish Museum in Camden Town on Sunday.

The film recounts the life of Leon Greenman - thought to be only English survivor of Auschwitz - who died aged 97 in March 2008.

Born in Whitechapel in 1910, to a father and mother of respective Dutch and eastern European heritage, Leon owned his own east London barbershop by age 21.

He met his wife Else in Rotterdam, where they eventually settled and had a child - Barnett ‘Barney’ Greenman.

In May 1940, the Nazi invasion of the Netherlands saw Rotterdam bombed and set ablaze for four days.

Luckily for Leon, his family were uninjured in the bombing campaign.

But, at 10 o’clock in the evening of 8 October 1942, the family were taken from their home to Westerbork concentration camp.

From there, they were placed on a list to be sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Leon appealed to the German Jewish camp administrator to recognise his British nationality, which he was sure would grant him protection from the Nazi’s inhumane race laws under the Geneva Convention.

It was no use.

“I could see Else clearly for she was wearing a thick red cape over her head and shoulders to keep her warm,” Leon once said, recalling watching his wife and son being driven away on the back of a truck.

“She gestured a kiss to me with her hand partly holding up Barney so that I could see him also.”

That was the last time he saw them.

“When Leon was in Birkenhau he made a promise to tell the outside world what happened,” said Joshua.

“This film shows how he kept that promise and didn’t just keep it but made it his life.”

Through interviews with friends, campaigners, teachers and educators, the documentary focuses on Leon’s life after the war, educating and campaigning to ensure that the events of Holocaust would never be repeated.

Leon, who lived in Ingleby Road, Ilford, began giving talks about his experiences in concentration camps in 1946, just one year after the end of the Second World War.

“There are many school children and grown ups who don’t know the real facts,” he said.

“I want to tell people the real facts so that they won’t vote for the wrong government.”

A pivotal moment came in July 1 1962.

Leon witnessed a national socialist movement rally in Trafalgar Square led by British fascist leader Colin Jordan.

Black and white photos show the base of Nelson’s Column emblazoned with the words “Free Britain from Jewish control.”

During one scene in the film, Leon recalls the impact the rally had on him.

He said: “I listened for a couple of hours and told myself ‘that is the English Hitler’.”

From that moment on, Leon took part in many anti-fascism protests in the UK.

Moving forward thirty years, Leon was still seen to be at the forefront of an anti-fascist march on the former headquarters of the British National Party in Welling on October, 16, 1993.

Amongst those interviewed is Ruth-Anne Lenga, Holocaust Educator at the University College London, who became friends and cared for him in his final days,

Speaking to the Recorder after the screening, she said: “It was a triumph, a beautiful portrait.”

“I would also really like to thank the Ilford Recorder.

“They really were the most supportive friend of Leon during his passing.”

In 2010, a memorial was erected as a tribute to Leon in the Holocaust Memorial Garden, Valentines Park, Ilford, following an appeal by the Recorder.

In his final days, Leon was granted some solace upon realising that he had shared his story with almost one million people.

Following the premier, Josh now intends to submit the film to festivals.

Learn more about the film by visiting facebook.com/LeonGreenmanSurvivor.

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