Page last updated at 13:29 GMT, Monday, 24 August 2009 14:29 UK

Holocaust survivor dies aged 84

Reverend Levy reading from his book Just One More Dance in 2001

One of Scotland's most prominent Jewish leaders, who survived seven Nazi concentration camps, has died at the age of 84.

Reverend Ernest Levy was taken from his home in Budapest, aged 19, to the Auschwitz concentration camp. He was later transferred to Belsen.

He moved from Hungary to Scotland in 1961 and was cantor of the Giffnock and Newlands Synagogue.

He wrote two books and gave educational talks on his experiences.

The Holocaust survivor was awarded an OBE in 2002.

He said it was not easy to speak out about his experiences in the concentration camps, but doing so helped him live with what he had been through.

He believed it was important for young people to recognise the level of cruelty inflicted upon the Jewish community and others who incurred the wrath of the Nazis.

Mr Levy was born in Bratislava in 1925 but his family were forced to flee to Hungary in 1938 after being persecuted by Slovak fascists.

He used to say even in the midst of the terrible darkness it was always possible to find a little light of humanity that would shine out
Dr Kenneth Collins

Following the German invasion of Hungary his family was deported to the concentration camps where many of them died.

He told of how his brothers had to dig their own graves and he only survived after being pulled from the dust in Belsen when the Allies arrived.

In his book, The Single Light, Mr Levy also talked of an amazing chance meeting in Belsen with a young lady whom 16 years later, in Glasgow, was to become his wife.

Speaking in a BBC Scotland interview in 2001, Mr Levy, said: "I was just 19-years-old when I found myself in Auschwitz and in a world of evilness beyond description.

"There you ceased to be a person, you were reduced to a number, totally dehumanised."

Reverend Levy speaking in a BBC Scotland interview in January 2001

Mr Levy spoke of the unbearable smell in the infamous concentration camp.

"The stench was lying on your chest and tore your lungs apart," he said.

"I couldn't breathe properly. It was horrifying, too terrible for words."

The cantor also spoke of how difficult it was to return to normality after he was freed from Belsen.

He said: "I was lucky to be selected for life. You have to rebuild your life from zero. It was agonisingly difficult for me to find an antidote for the loss of trust in people, in humanity, in God and in prayers.

"Eventually that trust did creep back gradually, through my emotional and spiritual worlds."

Before arriving in Scotland Mr Levy studied cantorial music in Tel Aviv.

His older brother was a cantor at Queens Park Synagogue in Glasgow and Mr Levy was recruited to join the former Pollokshields Synagogue in the city.

'Inspiring man'

Dr Kenneth Collins, who worked with Mr Levy on his autobiography, said that as time went by he did feel more able to share some of the horrific experiences he had suffered.

"Just recounting the stories decades later took a lot out of him," he said.

"He always said after every time he talked about what had happened, 'this means another sleepless night for myself and for my wife'. "

Dr Collins added: "He used to always tell the story of a little sardine tin thrown away by a German camp guard around the time of Hanukkah.

"Ernest picked it up and they used the oil left in it to make a little light.

His story of courage and hope educated thousands about the dangers of allowing racism to gain credence in society
Karen Pollock
Holocaust Educational Trust

"He used to say even in the midst of the terrible darkness it was always possible to find a little light of humanity that would shine out. That was his motto."

Secretary of State for Scotland Jim Murphy, who was a friend of Mr Levy for 20 years, said: "I have never met someone in life so inspiring that I felt honoured just to know him.

"For more than 40 years Glasgow has been home to Ernest. He was loved and revered by generations who have listened and been inspired."

SNP West of Scotland MSP Stewart Maxwell said: "Ernest Levy was a remarkable and inspiring man - someone held in great affection by all who knew him.

"He will be remembered of course for his educational work, but also as a man of great faith and decency."

Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said Mr Levy was a truly remarkable man.

She said: "Having survived the Nazi death camps, his story of courage and hope educated thousands about the dangers of allowing racism to gain credence in society. He was a respected figure in Glasgow and beyond, whose kindness and warmth touched all those that met him.

"It was the Holocaust Educational Trust's privilege to help Ernest launch his extraordinary book, 'A Single Light,' which detailed both the horrors he experienced and his enduring belief in the essential goodness of man. He will be greatly missed."

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