This Sunday marks the 75th anniversary of the Kindertransport, a rescue mission that helped save nearly 10,000 Jewish children from Nazi Germany bringing them to the safety of Britain before the outbreak of WWII. As Chief Executive of World Jewish Relief (WJR) - originally called the Central British Fund for Germany Jewry - I would like to take the opportunity to commemorate the people whose experiences still inspire the work we do today, helping communities around the world in need survive and revitalise with dignity and pride.
Many of the children who came over were the only members of their families who survived the Holocaust. Their stories show us that we are all survivors in our own way, and that it is just a turn of fate which led some of us to reach prosperity and safety, whilst others were left behind. It is important to keep these stories alive for future generations.
One such remarkable survivor is Judy Benton who grew up in Meissen, Eastern Germany. One day she came home from school to find the front door of her home forced open and her parents gone. They had been taken away by the Gestapo and later perished in Auschwitz. Judy knew she had move quickly if she was to survive. She grabbed her passport, documents and some money that her mother hid in a vase in the kitchen. Judy told me "when you are in an emergency, you can make life or death decisions, even at such a young age. Your mind just kicks into survival mode and you do what you need to do to survive and try not to think about being all alone".
Judy had heard about the Kindertransports to Britain, but without a guarantor or any paperwork she knew she would have to find another way onto the train. Now 92, Judy is a remarkable lady, a strong individual with so much passion for life. I wasn't surprised when I heard that she had managed to sneak onto the train by disguising herself as a nurse and pretending to be a carer for the small children.
Upon arrival in London, alone and afraid, a volunteer from the Central British Fund for German Jewry approached her and was able to direct her to Woburn House, the headquarters of a number of groups established to support refugees. They took her to a hostel and later helped get her into an agricultural college where she studied and met her future husband.
Today, Judy has her own family with children, grandchildren and even great grandchildren. Still involved with World Jewish Relief, she knits blankets with proceeds going to assist the most vulnerable people in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union. She has also returned to Meissen in Germany three times to tell her story and lay a plaque in memory of her parents.
Another survivor, Harry Heber, a dedicated WJR volunteer, came to Britain aged 7 with his sister Ruth (age 10). Unfortunately they were separated on the journey and sent to different homes. Harry was left in the care of foster parents who lived in a remote farmhouse in East Sussex and couldn't speak German. Harry remembers crying himself to sleep because he could not communicate with anyone in England and he missed his parents.
Harry was one of the lucky few reunited with his parents, who traveled to England arriving just two days before the war broke out. In the nine months since leaving Austria, Harry had learned to speak English fluently, but had lost almost every word of German. He laughs about how he couldn't understand his parents when they were reunited. The family resettled in England, but unfortunately most of his other relatives left behind died in Auschwitz.
As a volunteer of WJR, Harry has set up the Optical Project, supplying over 50,000 pairs of glasses to people in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union.
75 years after the Kindertransports, and as World Jewish Relief celebrates its 80th year of responding to disaster, poverty and suffering, we commemorate all stories of survival - past and present. We can all learn from the bravery and resilience of Judy, Harry and others and be inspired by their experiences as we continue to expand our support to others.
You can read and add your own stories of survival from the Jewish community around the world on our Story of Survival page, available on our website.