Eulogy given by Daniel

It’s difficult to imagine anything less Mum-like than being eulogised. I think her attitude to being told that she was going to be subject to several minutes of public praise would be: “Over my dead body”.

Which is fortunate in the circumstances.

One of her favourite moments in one of her favourite books was when a party is thrown to celebrate the bravery of Winnie the Pooh, and Pooh anticipates everyone’s reaction in a song:

“3 Cheers for Pooh?
(For Who?)
For Pooh
(Why? What did he do?)

The poem captures perfectly my mother’s modesty and her sense of the ridiculous, both of which were strongly developed.

Nothing made her more embarrassed that when, on one of our lovely family Shabbats, my father would stand beside her and say: “A woman of worth, who can find? Her price is far above rubies.”

She would attempt to deflect this by saying that it depended upon the price Ruby was charging.

But it is hard to pick what is the more impressive characteristic. That she should be so self-effacing or that she let my father go ahead anyway because even though she hated it, he loved it and she loved him.

Last week the photographer Harry Borden sent me his new book containing photographs of Holocaust survivors including a wonderful one of Mum. With it was a caption she had written: “I think of myself as a person, a wife and mother first and a survivor last.”

I will follow her advice.

So first, what a person she was.

In her last years we spoke on the phone every day. Just as she was about to hang up, she would thank me profusely for having phoned. I know we all three felt this: it was never a duty to call. It was a pleasure.

She was warm and loving and funny. Her conversation was light, but her understanding was acute. She was much more interested in you than in herself.

She was surprised that in her last years she had so many visitors. But that is because visiting her was a delight and being her friend something people valued.

She had a very strong sense of duty, and she was always the first to help others.

She carried this sense into her profession as a maths teacher, which she was very good at. I often meet people who tell me what a difference she made to their lives.

She was a generous host and present giver even though she didn’t need much for herself.

For years she watched television on a set she had bought for £50 from her hairdresser and which had thick vertical purple stripes across the screen. She claimed not to notice and I actually think she didn’t.

And she had a marvellous sense of proportion. I can’t recall her ever having a silly argument or falling out with someone. She accepted the eccentricities of others with the words: “We all have our own meshugas.”

This is not an objective judgment, obviously, but I think she was the personality equivalent of Heavyweight Champion of the World.

And she loved my father, oh she loved him. Which wasn’t hard, admittedly, but even allowing for that, she loved him.

They enjoyed each other’s company, shared similar taste, laughed together at the same jokes.

There even had quite similar eccentricities. They were both quite irritated that people do not appreciate that centimetres are not a proper measurement according to the International System of Units.

And sometimes we would spend 45 minutes at dinner working out how many cans of drink you could fit in a fridge of a particular cubic volume.

My mother had vast respect for my Dad, supporting his professional endeavours, becoming central, for instance, in the production of the Measurement Journal. And he reciprocated that respect.

She found it quite hard to go on without him.

She was, however, also a wonderful mother. Caring, supportive, astonishingly well prepared.

It was a family joke that with ten minutes to go before school, one of us would shout down the stairs that we needed to take with us a green camel suit.

There would be a brief flurry of activity and Mum would call back: “One hump? Or two?”

Turn up with 15 friends, without providing notice and there would soon be spaghetti bolognese or goulash for 15 people.

It wouldn’t be true to say that we never got told off, but she was remarkably tolerant. Even when I failed to appreciate that Copydex glue for carpets was intended for the underside.

We knew that there was only one real rule. We must love each other without condition. Siblings, in-laws, cousins, grandchildren. And so, Mum, we do and we always will, every one of us.

I come finally to her incredible story.

She alway said that she lived the Holocaust so that we don’t have to. And she found competitive Holocaust storytelling – my experience was worse that yours – absurd.

Even this terrible subject she insisted on imposing her personality on it, rather than allowing it to impose itself on her personality.

One day I heard on the radio that Ronald Reagan was going to visit Belsen. I came down to the kitchen where she was washing up and said “Mum, the President is going to Belsen.” Without turning round she replied: “So what. I’ve been.”

So modest was she that I think at the beginning she wondered how much people would really want to know about her tale. “Daniel,” she said to me one day. “Do you think the audience would be interested if I told them I saw Anne and Margot Frank arrive in Belsen?” Mmmm, yes Mum, I think they indeed might be interested.

She came to realise that people wanted to know and it was her duty to tell them. And so in schools, in synagogues, in Jewish centres and in Downing Street she gave of herself and told of her life.

But Mirjam Finkelstein wasn’t a survivor. She didn’t survive. She lived, she loved, she nurtured, she prospered, she triumphed.

She wasn’t a survivor she was a victor.

And so we come to the end of the story, Mum.

“Pooh, promise you won’t forget about me, ever. Not even when I’m a hundred.

Pooh thought for a little.

‘How old shall I be then?’


Pooh nodded. ‘I promise,’ he said.

Still with his eyes on the world Christopher Robin put out a hand and felt for Pooh’s paw.

‘Pooh’, said Christopher Robin earnestly. ‘if I – if I’m not quite -’ he stopped and tried again – ‘Pooh, whatever happens, you will understand won’t you?’

‘Understand what?’

‘Oh nothing’ he laughed and jumped to his feet. ‘Come on!’

‘Where?’ said Pooh.

‘Anywhere,’ said Christopher Robin.

So they went off together. But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.’

Daniel Finkelstein
January 2017