From Petr Schwarz Loubal (Berkeley, California)
It was at Prague’s Wilson Station, in August 1939, that I last saw Mum and Grandma. But before I get to that, I wish to add that 20 years later, in 1959, that’s also where I last spoke with my Dad. When I boarded a train to the Black Sea, from where I made it to Egypt, and finally to California.
Dad was then imprisoned by the StB, the Czech Secret Police, for aiding an escapee. All he had done was to tell him we may not see each other a long time. He read my mind, and gave me a $100 note he had stashed away, and a book to read on the train. It was Stefan Zweig’s “Beware of Pity”. His parting words were “be good to others, but first and foremost you must be good to yourself.” “Live and let live.”
So, I’d interpret “Be Good” as being good first to oneself and then to others. i.e. “Do. Good!” I donated $1000 to this memorial, so now I pledge to donate another $1000 to help current refugee children. The chance that any of them will become terrorists is minuscule. The various Kindertransports produced 4 Nobel prize winners, but I checked with Google, and there’s not a single mention of a murderer or master criminal. Does “Good” lead to more “Good?”
Back to 1939. After the Germans entered Prague, Dad punched out a Czech Nazi attorney who was gloating over the demise of Jewish competition. So there was a warrant for his arrest. Paradoxically, this may have saved his and my life. I should mention that Mum and Dad were divorced. Dad had good connections and went into hiding, yet managed to secure exit visas for me and his German Anti-Nazi girlfriend. So Lotte and I made it to Paris, just before the war broke out. After war broke out, Dad smuggled himself via Germany and then Holland and Belgium (before they were invaded) into France.
The last time I saw Mum and Grandma was at the Wilson station. It must have been hard to let me leave with the “other woman.” As the Germans occupied Paris, Dad, Lotte and I made it to Southern France. We were in Beziers when France fell. A British collier, the Northmoor, docked in Sete, was ordered to take on Czech military personnel with accompanying wives and children. But the gangway was controlled by Czech officers, and they refused to let Lotte, a German, come on board. I had walked past them and watched from above as dad argued with these officers, to no avail. As the ship was about to depart, I saw dad reach into his pocket and give Lotte money, before joining me onboard. Fortunately, Lotte survived the war. Mom and Grandma didn’t.
Mum was picked up by the Gestapo in Pilsen, and was then reported to have hanged herself overnight in her cell. I have no detailed information about this, but consider killing oneself rather than letting oneself be tortured or herded into a gas chamber, to also be a very courageous escape. Dad and I made it via Gibraltar to Liverpool and I spent the rest of the war in the “Czechoslovak school” with some of the “Winton” kids. Dad was sent to Russia towards the end of the war, and returned to Prague on the heels of the Red Army. I joined him there, in June 1945, only to have to escape again.
A Letter from Leo.
Dear Lady Grenfell-Baines
My name is Leo. I am a year six student at Christ the King RCPS and this term we are studying the topic of Campaigners for Change.
We have learnt about many campaigners but one in particular stood out. His name, Sir Nicholas Winton. I find his modesty comparable to Jesus’ because to hide what he did for nearly 50 years is amazing.
I think your idea is touching, amazing and beautiful. You could say it is a modern masterpiece. Others could say it is the simplicity of the hands touching for one last time that makes it brilliant.
We found out about you and the ‘Valediction Memorial’ when our head mistress told us about a charity that was raising money for a Kindertransport memorial. It tied in with our topic (Campaigners for Change). This memorial stood out from others because it isn’t about Sir Nicholas Winton or the children, it’s for the parents, for having the courage to let their children go overseas to a far away land.
We have raised money for the ‘Valediction Memorial’ by having friends and family sponsor us for three challenges:
1. The Bottle Flip Challenge – where as a class we flipped our water bottles 669 times (669 being the amount of children saved, one of which is you).
2. The Mannequin Challenge – where as a class we had to stay still for 250 seconds (250 being the amount of children stopped by the Nazis, two of which survived).
3. The Passing Challenge – where as a class we made 669 successful football passes.
We have learnt about the Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) and in respect to those in the Holocaust we held an assembly, where we told our friends and family about John Chillag who survived three concentration camps and another one of Nick’s Children, Sue Pearson. HMD is important to me for the same reason it is for John or Sue so hat by spreading their word it never happens again.
Please accept this cheque from Christ The King PS for £600. We know it may not be a large donation but it is a donation from my year 6 classmates and me, which I think is huge.
My classmates and I would love it if you could take time out of your busy schedule and come into class and tell us about your experience on the Kindertransport and your sculpture.
John Fieldsend (formerly Heini Feige)
I was born in 1931 in the city of Opava, near to the small Czech town of Vitkov where my mother’s family home was. As a student my mother had gone to Dresden in Germany to study photography and met my father there. My father was a buyer for a large store and my parents set up home in the new Dresden suburb of Gruna near the Volkspark Grosse Garten. My brother Arthur was born there in Dresden in 1928 but I was born in Vitkov on one of our family’s frequent visits to Vitkov. In Dresden we lived in one of a large new block of flats built around a quadrangle which contained a children’s play area. There we were very happy until Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 when life became more difficult. I clearly remember three incidents of this time. My first was a time when Arthur and I were playing with a group of other children in a large communal sandpit, as we often did. Quite suddenly all the other children turned on us, calling us dirty Jews, hitting us and spitting. My brother ran into our flat and brought out the Iron Cross father had won in the First World War to show that though we were Jewish we were nevertheless loyal Germans. It was to no avail and the bullying continued. The second incident happened when we were playing with the children one of father’s very good non Jewish friends when again, out of the blue, the name calling and bullying began again. It then transpired that father’s good friend had joined the SS. The third incident was when I cut my head in an accident at home. One look and our doctor said ‘That needs a stitch’ but added ‘I don’t stitch Jews’.
Dresden was rapidly becoming too dangerous for us to remain so one night we just walked out of our home, left everything behind, and drove to Vitkov my mother’s family home. Once more we felt safe, or so we thought, until the infamous Munich Agreement allowed the German Army to march into the Sudetenland, and then into the whole of Czechoslovakia, without any resistance. Life under Nazi occupation again became intolerable. One day father said to Arthur and me ‘You are going on a long journey, to a country called England. We can’t come with you, but when the troubles are over you can return or maybe we can come to you.’ Our parents then took us to Vitkov rail station, put us on a train and said ‘goodbye’. As the train was leaving my mother took her wristwatch off and passed it through the window, and said ‘This is for you to remember us by’.
That train took Arthur and me back into Germany, to a big Jewish horticultural college near Hanover, the Garternbau Schule at Ahlem, which was now being used as a Jewish children’s dispersal centre from where, every day, groups of children would be taken to various parts of the world. One day, towards the end of June, a teacher took Arthur and me to the rail station and put us on a train for England. Only forty years later were we to find out that that was a train from Prague, organised by (Sir) Nicholas Winton, which was detailed specifically to stop at Hanover to pick Arthur and me up. After an eventful journey Arthur and I ended up in separate but close-by foster homes in Sheffield, arriving on the 1st July 1939.
Shortly after the end of the war Arthur and I received two wonderful communications. First there was a large International Red Cross parcel which contained all our family photograph albums. They are such a treasure and a confirmation of our childhood memories, and the second a farewell letter from our parents written shortly before they were taken to their deathcamp. How that letter got to us we shall never know, but it so beautiful and gentle. How they were able to write like that I cannot imagine but it makes this memorial so important. I end with a copy of the letter.
When you receive this letter the war will be over because our friendly messenger won’t be able to send it earlier. We want to say farewell to you who were our dearest possession in the world, and only for a short time were we able to keep you.
Fate has not left us for months now. In Jan. 1942 the Weilers were taken, we still don’t know where to and whether they are still alive. In June Grandmother Betty, in Sept. Aunt Marion, Uncle Willi and Pauli, in Oct. your Steiner Grandparents, in Nov. your 90 year old Great-Grandmother and the Bermans. In Dec. it will be our turn and the time has therefore come for us to turn to you again and to ask you to become good men and think of the years we were happy together. We are going into the unknown, not a word is to be heard from those already taken.
Thank the Cumpstys (my foster parents) who have kept you from a similar fate. You took of course a piece of your poor parents’ hearts with you when we decided to give you away. Give our thanks and gratitude to all who are good to you.
Your dear mother has told you about the hard fate of all our loved ones. We too won’t be spared and will go bravely into the unknown with the hope that we shall yet see you again when God wills. Don’t forget us and be good.
I too thank all the good people who have accepted you so nobly.
Elizabeth and I have been back to Czechoslovakia and Germany several times. We found that almost all our wider family we left behind died in Auschwitz and various other camps. However we found our house in Vitkov and our flat in Gruna in Dresden survived the bombing. Even that notorious sandpit survived. (My brother Arthur died in 2007)
I was very happy in a lovely Christian home though life was greatly disrupted by the Sheffield blitz, so we moved to Worksop. At this time the Jewish Refugee Committee, concerned about my lack of Jewish education, arranged for me to go to a Jewish Boarding School in Haslemere, though I returned to my foster home for the holidays. I left the Jewish school in 1946 and resumed my education in Worksop and, after much thought I was baptised some months later.
From 1950 I went to Nottingham University, gained a degree in Electrical Engineering and was greatly strengthened in my new faith by the Christian Union. This was followed by National Service in the Royal Air Force and a very brief career in the electronics industry. Then a call to full time Christian ministry was confirmed and I was ordained in Manchester Cathedral in 1961, Elizabeth and I marrying in the same year. All this time I was burying my past and become very British and very ‘Gentile’. Eventually, whilst I was vicar of a parish in Shropshire, I woke up one morning with a startling realisation ‘Hey, I’m Jewish! How have I ended up here?’ This led into some months in a long dark tunnel of an identity crisis which eventually led me to the (to me) dramatic realisation that I could believe in Jesus and still be Jewish! During all this time Elizabeth and our three children were very supportive and our church rejoiced in finding that they had a Jewish vicar. After twenty-two years of very happy and fruitful ministry in the lovely parish of Bayston Hill I was invited to become UK Director of the Church’s Ministry among Jewish People followed by three years as Director of the Centre of Biblical and Hebraic Studies with Dr Clifford Hill at Moggerhanger. During this time, through a series of ‘coincidences’ or rather ‘God-incidences’ I was reunited with an uncle and two cousins in the United States, and another cousin in Munich. This has spurred me on to undertake research into my family’s fate as a major project in my retirement. Sadly, though all the time I really suspected it, my research has confirmed that my parents and several other near relations died in Auschwitz, and others in Theresienstadt and Riga Stutthof. But throughout this time I have been sustained by my Messiah who also suffered and died and shares my pain.
Despite all that has happened I am so thankful that I have experienced life in three wonderful families, my natural family into which I was born, the wonderful family that shared their home with me when I so dramatically needed one, and the family Elizabeth and I have shared with our three wonderful children. So through all the drama of my life I affirm with all my heart, that GOD IS GOOD and therefore LIFE IS GOOD. PRAISE TO HIS NAME.
In memory of Marta and Evzen Heller.
Dear Lady Grenfell-Baines
I obtained your email address from Carol Noble who I met through the Czech WWII airmen group. Carol and I have met a few times over the last 5 years and she forwarded to me the information regarding the Farewell Memorial Prague project. My brother, Tom Hurka, and I would like to make a donation in memory of our grandparents Marta and Evzen Heller. I will be sending you a bank draft in the mail but wanted to provide you with some context and our mother’s story.
Our mother Dita Hellerova and her brother Fera (Felix) Heller left Prague in 1939. Dita was 18 at the time and Felix was 15. Our grandparents managed to get them on one of the trains. My mother was able to go as an escort because she was 18 and otherwise too old. We do not know too much about where they went when they arrived in England. Felix was on a farm for part of the time and Dita worked for an Austrian family as an au pair.
As soon as he was able, Felix joined the RAF and was part of Czech squadron 311. On November 18, 1943 his plane had engine failure and it crashed into the Bay of Biscay. We believe the plane was shot down by the Germans. His body was never recovered.
During the war our mother was able to get a BA at the University of Birmingham and a Master of Social Work at the London School of Economics. Her studies were funded in part through scholarships and in part through the Czech government in exile. After the war she returned to Prague. She married our father, Anthony Hurka, and in 1948, after the communists came to power, they emigrated to Canada. In Canada, Dita had a very fulfilling career in social work. Unfortunately she died at the age of 56 from cancer.
The last part of the story is about our grandparents. They managed to survive in Prague until July 1942 when they were transferred to Terezin. They only stayed in Terezin for one month. In August of 1942 they were sent to Maly Trostinec in the western Soviet Union where they were killed by the Germans.
I cannot imagine the strength and courage it would have taken for our grandparents to put their children on a train to a strange country, trusting their care to strangers. Your efforts to recognize their efforts is commendable. We hope our modest donation helps to keep these stories alive. Please let us know how you are making out with the fundraising and the progress of the project.
Anne MacPhee and Tom Hurka
Acting CEO and Chief Operating Officer, Career Edge Organization, Toronto, Canada.
Lilly Schindler’s Story
My name is Debbie Samson, and my mother was Lilly Schindler.
Lilly came to England on Nicholas Winton’s transport from Prague, leaving on 29th June, and arriving at Liverpool St. on 1st July 1939. She was 7 ½ years old. Her birthday was January 1st 1932.
She was born in Bodenbach/Decin in Northern Bohemia.
Her parents were Max and Gertrude Schindler, and they were sent to Theresenstadt, and then to Zamosc where they both perished.
She had a sister who was too old to come on a kindertransport, so she had been sent to England before Lilly, and worked as a housemaid.
On arriving in London, Lilly went to live in The Highbury home for Jewish children. The group picture I have attached is of the children in the home. Lilly is in the front row, 2nd from right.
She had a fairly unhappy time in the home, as the matron was a cruel lady, who did not treat the children kindly.
in September 1939 the children were evacuated to Peranporth in Cornwall.
Lilly stayed in the childrens home until the end of the war, after which she went to live with her sister in Cardiff, who had now married and had room for her.
Lilly met and married Bill Pollock, my father. She had a very happy life, and had 3 children and 7 grandchildren. She sadly died in April 2007, on 1st day Pesach.
She thought all her family had perished, but 2 years ago we received a letter from people in Czech Republich who are relations of hers, and have discovered a great number of relatives who did survive the war. This was sad that she never knew this.
Many thanks, Debbie Samson
A letter from Maeve Furlong
I was very moved to hear about the memorial in Prague as I had heard you on television speaking about it. I am 82 years old so was in London during the blitz and realise that if I had been living in Europe that could have been me.
I agree that the holocaust should be taught in schools so it’s never forgotten. The memorial sounds wonderful and I have seen the one in London at Liverpool St. station many times.
I enclose my donation and hope maybe I’ll see the memorial some day as I have a nephew who lives in Prague and visited the city only last year.
Yours Sincerely. Maeve Furlong
A letter from Paul and Wendy Hanna
We read the article about the Valediction Memorial in The Guardian last week, and felt that we wanted to make a donation, enclosed.
We are not direct descendants of a Kindertransport child, however a member of our family fostered and subsequently adopted a Kindertransport boy who lost his parents and elder brother, and we would like to make this donation as a tribute to his parents, Martha and Rudolph.
With very warm wishes.
Paul and Wendy Hanna
Ruth Webster’s Story
As a Holocaust survivor I came to England in 1939 with my mother to escape the Nazi persecution of the Jews. We fled Prague. Most of my family died in Auschwitz. My father in Terezin. I was just a little girl 7 years old, we came with one suitcase…it’s a long story.
I became a teacher, married and made a new life in wonderful England. I was enormously touched to read about the Valediction Memorial and have much pleasure in sending you a cheque for £25 towards the cost.
The Holocaust must never be forgotten and this memorial will be a firm reminder to make sure that it is not.
Yours Sincerely. Ruth Webster
A letter from Margaret Hughes
I am writing this letter as an English mother and grandmother living in Germany. I can only imagine the horror of the 2nd World War as I was born in 1952. I watched your interview on BBC Breakfast about the memorial and I cannot tell you how moved I was as a woman, a mother, a grandmother (all girls). The thought of putting my two daughters, when they were small, onto a train never knowing if I would see them again was too awful to contemplate, handing them over to strangers to care for them in a country so far away – no parent should have to do that.
I and my husband have watched many programmes about the Holocaust and the acts of bravery some people performed to protect others.
How unbelievably brave and unselfish the parents were to put those little children on the Kindertransport trains. In 2017 we cannot understand the horror facing them.
The memorial is an unbelievable tribute to all that were involved and that you and others are here to show testament to those who can no longer speak.
Thank you and I hope one day I will travel to see the memorial in Prague. My tears on Sunday were for all affected by the Holocaust but especially for that little girl and her 3 year old sister getting on that train leaving behind parents whose fear for the future I thank God I have never had to experience.
I hope our donations go in some small way to making the memorial a reality.
Thank you again for sharing your story. We must never forget.
Regards Margaret Hughes.
The most selfless act
Dear Lady Grenfell-Baines
As, so far, you have been my point of contact for this very inspiring memorial I am sending my donation directly to you. You and your extended family are the living proof of the unimaginable love your parents displayed in their effort to save the most precious “possessions” anyone could ever have.
To part with your children, not knowing whether you’ll ever see them again, must be one of the most selfless acts anyone could do.
I found the prototype shown on television (of the actual memorial) the most moving object I’ve seen in a long time. You could not have got a better image.
It expresses the actual event of the Kindertransport, but also the the fantastic outcome of this selfless act, as other generations have been born since to celebrate love and survival.