Royal guest at refugees’ reunion

By Ruth Rothenberg, November 27, 2008
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The Prince of Wales chats to Bertha Leverton, founder of the Reunion of Kindertransport

The Prince of Wales chats to Bertha Leverton, founder of the Reunion of Kindertransport

The Prince of Wales joined former child refugees on Sunday at what will probably be their last major get-together.

Before addressing the 500 Kindertransport reunion guests who filled the JFS school hall in North London, the prince went on a teatime walkabout , asking individuals how they had coped with such a dramatic change in their lives. Among those he chatted to was physicist Frank Beck, who worked at the CERN nuclear research establishment in Geneva for 30 years.

He told his audience, now in their 70s and 80s, how much he admired their contribution to society. "You wanted to give something back." The prince also recalled his paternal grandmother's unsung wartime heroism. Princess Alice of Greece managed to hide a Jewish family in her house in Athens, despite Gestapo suspicions and questioning.

"We only knew about it many, many years later," he said, after the family contacted Yad Vashem in the 1990s.

He accepted a small-scale model of the new commemorative statue at Liverpool Street station, designed and donated by Tel Aviv-based sculptor Frank Meisler, a former child refugee who trained as an architect in Manchester. The installation depicts a group of children with suitcases on a section of railway track. The presentation was made by Andrew Kaufman, chairman of the Association of Jewish Refugees, which supports the Kindertransport committee.

A speech of welcome was given by committee chairman Erich Reich, who was hopeful of an imminent resolution to the long-running battle to secure German pensions for the Kinder who were deprived of their opportunity to work in Germany. The campaign has been led by former chairman Hermann Hirschberger.

Sunday's programme included a short service conducted by Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, and Kindertransport refugee Rev Bernd Koschland; addresses by Lord Janner and Employment Minister Tony McNulty and an overview by historian Sir Martin Gilbert of the background to the entry into Britain of 10,000 unaccompanied children.

Stephen Smith, founder of the Holocaust Centre in Nottinghamshire, gave an audio-visual presentation on a new educational exhibit showing the life of a Jewish boy under increasing Nazi restrictions. Film director Lord Attenborough paid emotional tribute to his parents, who welcomed two German-Jewish girls into their family in Leicester.

Bertha Leverton, the founder of the Reunion of Kindertransport in 1988, was "elated" at the turnout. But she sounded a note of sadness over the loss of so many Kinder to Judaism. "If only the Ango-Jewish community had been more friendly, fewer children would have had to go into non-Jewish homes."

    Last updated: 10:00am, November 27 2008