Gordon Brown honours British Holocaust heroes

The Prime Minister Gordon Brown will honour the heroes of the Holocaust who came from Britain.


Dennis Avey

Dennis Avey

Gordon Brown will commemorate more than 20 British heroes of the Holocaust with a new award at a ceremony in Downing Street tomorrow.

The Prime Minister will hold a reception honouring those that risked their lives to help Jews during the Holocaust.

Of those awarded, only two are still alive and will attend the reception: Denis Avey, now 91, who saved an Auschwitz prisoner’s life after temporarily swapping places with an inmate and “British Schindler” Sir Nicholas Winton, who rescued 669 children from Czechoslovakia.

Mr Brown announced the creation of the award after his visit to Auschwitz last year and following a campaign by the Holocaust Educational Trust to recognise British citizens.

Families of those awarded will have lunch in the Foreign Office where they are due to meet Foreign Secretary David Miliband before the reception. Others set to attend are Communities Secretary John Denham and his minister, Shahid Malik.

Over the past two years, the Holocaust Educational Trust has worked to raise the profile of British men and women who in many cases undertook exceptional acts of bravery in order to aid or rescue people persecuted during the Holocaust. Many of them never spoke of their exceptional actions, instead living out their lives in quiet anonymity.

The Holocaust Educational Trust believes that such individuals embody all that is best about Britain - and deserve formal recognition, not only to acknowledge their deeds but to serve as an example to future generations about the importance of making a stand against racism, discrimination and other forms of injustice.

The Holocaust Educational Trust warmly welcomes the Government’s decision to institute a new award and is delighted that so many family members will be in attendance to receive the awards on behalf of their relatives -the first award of its kind in the UK.

The Trust’s initiative to ensure their recognition included a petition on the 10 Downing Street website and support for an annual lecture in memory of British rescuer Frank Foley - and has led to the tabling of two Early Day Motions in Parliament, both of which received significant cross-party backing.

Among the most enthusiastic supporters of efforts to secure recognition have been students, many of whom wrote to their MPs. This culminated in a moving debate held in the House of Commons last year, in which Members from all sides of the House paid tribute to the inspirational individuals.

The individuals to be honoured

The following individuals, some of whom have already been recognised by Yad Vashem (Israel’s Holocaust memorial authority) as ‘Righteous Among the Nations’ are to be recipients of the award:

● Princess Alice of Greece, Sheltered Jewish families in the Royal Palace during the Nazi occupation. Princess Alice was born at Windsor Castle.

● Albert Bedane, resident of Nazi-occupied Jersey who hid a Jewish woman in his home.

● Ida and Louise Cook, sisters who helped 29 German and Austrian Jews to escape to Britain. Born in Sunderland, they settled in Wandsworth.

● Sgt Charles Coward, British Prisoner-of-War who smuggled information about conditions at Auschwitz out – and snuck food and other items to Jewish inmates and aided the escape of a significant number of Jewish slave labourers. He lived in Edmonton, Enfield.

● Maj Frank Foley, MI6 Spy posing as a Passport Officer at British Embassy in Berlin, through providing faked exit papers he helped some 10,000 Jews escape Nazi Germany. Born in Highbridge, Somerset, he settled in Stourbridge.

● Jane Haining, a Scottish woman working in a Budapest orphanage, she refused to leave her Jewish wards – and died at Auschwitz. She was born and raised in the village of Dunscore, Dumfries and Galloway.

● June Ravenhall, British housewife living in occupied Amsterdam, she sheltered a young Jewish boy in her home. She originally hailed from Kenilworth in Warwickshire.

● Sofka Skipwith, saved a newborn Jewish baby by smuggling the child out of a camp in a Red Cross box. She lived out her final years at Bodmin Moor, North Cornwall.

● Sister Agnes Walsh, Catholic nun who helped shelter a family of French Jews. The Daughters of Charity Convent (the order to which she belonged) is in Mill Hill, in Hendon.

● Former British POWs: Stan Wells, Alan Edwards George Hammond, Roger Letchford, Tommy Noble, helped save the life of a Sara Rigler, a young Jewish girl they hid in a hayloft. Stan Wells returned to Norfolk after the war, although we do not know where the others settled.

● Bertha Bracey OBE, Quaker Englishwoman who was a key figure in organising the Kindertransport. She was originally from Birmingham.

● John Buckley; Bill Scruton; Bert Hambling; Bill Keeble; Willy Fisher; former British Prisoners-of-War, who alongside those already honoured by Yad Vashem (Stan Wells, Alan Edwards George Hammond, Roger Letchford, Tommy Noble), helped to rescue Sara Rigler.

● Louisa Gould; Ivy Forster; Harold Le Druillenec; residents of Jersey who assisted Russian POWs during the Nazi occupation

● Henk Huffener, Dutch man who took British citizenship in 1950, Huffner worked to smuggle Jews out of Holland and into safe countries. After the war he lived in London and opened an arts centre in Somerset.

The only living recipients are:

● Sir Nicholas Winton, organiser of the rescue of 669 mainly Jewish children from Prague in 1939. Now 100 years old, last year he greeted the arrival from Prague into Liverpool Street station of the ‘Winton Train,’ as part of a project organised by the Czech government in tribute to him. He lives in Maidenhead, Berkshire.

● Denis Avey, a former British Prisoner-of-War who helped a German Jewish inmate, Ernst Lobethall, to survive Auschwitz-Birkenau. His story was uncovered only in the past few months. Denis lives in Derbyshire.

Last updated: 10:01am, March 9 2010