Survivors: Portraits of the Holocaust victims

Thursday:Survivors: Portraits of the Holocaust; (BBC Two, 9pm)

On January 27 1945, the first Red Army soldier entered the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, where more than 1.1 million people had been murdered, granting a little over 7,000 exhausted, starving prisoners their freedom.

Tragically, Auschwitz-Birkenau was not an isolated camp. As the Allied armies pushed into Europe, driving back Nazi forces, they came face-to-face with the Final Solution – Adolf Hitler’s depraved plan to use concentration and death camps to erase Jews from the face of the Earth, alongside gay and disabled people, members of the Roma, political prisoners and anyone who didn’t bend to their sick ideology.

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The Nazis murdered six million Jews alone.

HRH Prince Charles

Footage from the various liberated camps is both arresting and stomach-churning, and for decades, people have asked such questions as “how could one human being do that to another?”

Spool forward 77 years, and the unimaginable horrors of the Holocaust are starting to slip out of living memory, while the twin issues of illiberalism and nationalism are on the rise again in Europe, driven in part by extreme far-right propaganda that has found a fertile home on social media.

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It underscores the importance of marking Holocaust Memorial Day. This two-part documentary, which concludes a month of programmes covering the subject, follows a remarkable project spearheaded by the Prince of Wales. As Patron of the National Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, he has commissioned leading artists to paint seven of the last survivors of the Nazi scheme.

Helen Aronson, Lily Ebert, Manfred Goldberg, Arek Hersh, Anita Lasker, Rachel Levy and Zigi Shipper will be painted by Paul Benney, Ishbel Myerscough, Clara Drummond, Massimiliano Pironti, Peter Kuhfeld, Stuart Pearson Wright and Jenny Saville, respectively.

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Throughout the programme, the remarkable men and women who witnessed one of the greatest atrocities in human history will tell their harrowing stories, and will meet the artists tasked with creating portraits that represent their pain and loss, as well as their dignity, light and hope.

All seven survivors were children in the camps and are now well into their 90s, having made their lives in Britain. The portraits will stand as a lasting reminder of horrors which will one day be lost to living memory.

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Prince Charles says: “As the number of Holocaust survivors sadly, but inevitably, declines, my abiding hope is that this special collection will act as a further guiding light for our society, reminding us not only of history’s darkest days, but of humanity’s interconnectedness as we strive to create a better world for our children, grandchildren and generations as yet unborn; one where hope is victorious over despair and love triumphs over hate.”

Cameras follow the creation of the artworks as the artists and survivors get together for their final sittings, while the artists will also reflect on their time getting to know the survivors and how their experiences informed their work.

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The seven portraits will become part of the Royal Collection and can be seen in a special display at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace between January 27 and February 13, before they are moved to the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh between March 17 and June 6.

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