Tuesday 9 December 2014

Year 6 - Holocaust Survivor Visit

Our Year 6 pupils were very lucky to have a visit today from Vera Shaufeld - aged 85. Born in Czechoslovakia, Vera had to be sent away under the Kindertransport scheme before the beginning of WW2. As a consequence of her parents' bravery she is alive today to tell us about the events that led up to the start of war in 1939 and the impact it had on her life. Her story was humbling, inspiring and worryingly current with all the troubles in Syria and around the world where children's lives are being torn apart.

Kinder Transport
Vera told the children about the campaigners Phillip Noel Baker & Eleanor Rathbone who, amongst others, requested that Britain accept the children of Jewish families who were being threatened by the Nazi state. As a result of their endeavours, it was decided to allow Jews to come to England for sanctuary as long as they were under the age of 17 and could pay £50. To raise the money, Vera told the children about Stanley Baldwin who appealed via the radio for help.

Soon after the Kindertransport (German for children transport) was set up. This was a rescue mission that took place during the nine months prior to the outbreak of the Second World War. The United Kingdom took in nearly 10,000 predominantly Jewish children from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and the Free City of Danzig. The children were placed in British foster homes, hostels, schools and farms. Often they were the only members of their families who survived the Holocaust.

This is how Vera came to live in the UK.

When Germans arrived in Czechoslovakia had list of people to arrest. Vera's father taken away within days and imprisoned. Worried for her safety Vera's mother kept her away from school. When she returned she found that her teacher had said "the Jews are always the first to run away"

Vera described how hurtful this was: the idea that her teacher, whom she thought so much of, saw her not as Vera, but as a Jew.
Shortly afterwards soldiers came to confiscate radio from the house as Jewish citizens were not allowed to own a wireless. Then one day, as Vera came home from school she told of how her Mother met her and informed her of the Kindertransport program.

To help her get onto the train, Vera's Mum & Dad promised they would follow later. But that never happened.

The whole room fell silent as Vera described the scene at the train station were hundreds of parents were waving goodbye to their children. Vera said that at that moment she had no idea it would be the last time she ever saw her parents. No one from her family survived the war. Vera's mum, dad, nanny and Jewish school friends all died in the Holocaust.

Vera then told of us of how lucky she felt. A few months later a train was sat next to the platform with another load of children about to depart for the safety of England. Suddenly the news was announced that war had broken out between England and Germany. German soldiers boarded the train and made the Jewish children get off. None of those 200 children survived the war.

The Journey
Vera described the long journey that took her via Holland and Harwich to Liverpool St Station. Of course the platform there was much dirtier and smellier as trains ran on coal. Eventually Vera was collected by Miss Lee - from Suffolk - who could speak German. Vera told us that she was dropped in Bury St Edmunds - where she was taken in by an English Christian family. They already had a daughter of their own called Betty.

Vera described how kind Betty was as before Vera's arrival Betty used to have 6p a week pocket money. Her mum made her split it with Vera to encourage her to share!

A New Family
It was very hard at first as Vera - aged just 8 - couldn't speak English. Initially she learned how to sign, but as time went by she began to master the language. In the months before the war broke out, Vera told us that she did manage to speak on the phone and have letters from her parents. Desperate to get out, they told her that they were trying: Argentina, Mexico, China. Sadly once war was declared all contact ceased.

Now Vera knew that she would have to live with this new family for much longer than she had thought. It was very hard to live with another family.

"They were very kind, but you don't love them like your own parents. I was worried that I'd been sent away for being bad. I was too young to realise how lucky I was."

At the end of the war I was sitting in class when I heard the announcement that the fighting was over. I jumped with joy. The teacher sent me out of the classroom for making a disturbance, but I didn't care. I thought that it would mean I could go home."

Vera was then worried she had forgotten a lot of her mother tongue - how would she fit in back home?

But then the tragic news came from the  Red Cross that all of her family had died. On one of her trips to the cinema, Vera saw for herself the fate that had befallen her parents and friends.

Before the situation had become really bad, her parents had sent their wedding rings to Holland and eventually Vera got them back.

"I still worry about what my parents must have been thinking when they took off their rings and posted them away. Was that the moment when they gave up hope of ever getting away?"

Vera told us how she has been back to her old village and found the apartment where she used to live. Her old Nursery was still there and her home has now been converted into a new block of flats.

One sculpture that is there to make sure we never forget is in Liverpool Street Station. Vera showed us the Kinder sculpture: how it shows the railway they arrived on, and how in the lights are all the towns the children came from.

"Vera seemed so kind and didn't get angry. If someone had done that to my family I don't think I would be so polite." Dylan 

"It must have been so sad to have to wave your family away and then never see them again." Louisa

"I'm not sure that I agree with charging the children for coming to us. How many couldn't afford the £50... it doesn't seem very fair" William

Thank you to Mrs Nicholls for organising the visit with Free The Children. It was one of the most touching and interesting talks that we have had.

No comments:

Post a Comment