Galloway MSP still haunted by Holocaust survivor

South of Scotland MSP Emma Harper signs Holyrood's Holocaust Remembrance book
South of Scotland MSP Emma Harper signs Holyrood's Holocaust Remembrance book

Although the Holocaust happened decades before her birth, local MSP Emma Harper had direct experience of how one survivor could never get over its horrors.

The former nurse and now SNP MSP chose Holocaust Memorial Day to share her memories with Holyrood colleagues during a special session to mark the sombre occasion.

She joined her colleague, Richard Lyle who led the Members’ Debate, in using the day to “consider the pain, suffering and sorrow caused by views rooted in hatred and prejudice, and to urge everyone in Scotland to ensure that racism, sectarianism, bigotry and anti-Semitism are never allowed to go unchallenged.”

The theme for this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day, ‘Torn From Home,’ encouraged the public to reflect on how the enforced loss of a safe place to call ‘home’ is part of the trauma faced by anyone experiencing persecution.

During the debate, Emma Harper used her personal experience of meeting a Holocaust survivor whilst working as a nurse in Los Angeles, recounting: “As a recent arrival – as an economic migrant to LA - I was in the operating room one day about to assist the surgeon to remove the gallbladder of our 76-year-old patient.

“This woman was of German origin and had been a resident of LA for 50 years. She was very frightened about her surgery and being put under anaesthesia.

“I reassured her that we would look after her and keep her safe. And I held onto her hand. And when I held onto her hand – I looked down at her outstretched forearm on the surgical table armboard- I noticed a pale grey set of numbers scrieved on her forearm - ‘162 753’.

“Now, I don’t know if I am remembering the exact numbers but I definitely remember how those numbers made me feel. I felt, shock, fear, anger, and compassion all at once in a quick flood of emotions.

“What is burned into my memory is the pale grey of the tattoo, the significance of those numbers, and the rush of emotions that overwhelmed me.

“I was 26 years old when I was caring for this frail, frightened woman, and when she was 26 years old she was there. And this number – forced onto her pale skin, making a permanent life-long mark - rudely announced that she was there, and more importantly that she survived.

“She saw the horrors and nightmare of Auschwitz. That insensitive, inhuman, imprint on this woman, has been part of my memory since 1993.”