Community Secretary Eric Pickles has pinpointed “the tiny acts of kindness that undermined the Nazi killing machine,” as he presented a Holocaust Hero’s Award to family members of a British prisoner of war who helped save a 16-year-old Jewish girl from the Nazis.
In a ceremony this week, Mr Pickles presented the medal to the nephew of the late George Hammond, one of 10 British PoWs who helped hide Lithuanian-born Sara Matuson in the Gross Golmkau camp hayloft, in northern Poland, for four weeks in January 1945.
Sara found refuge after escaping a death march which her sister and mother did not survive. She later adopted the name Hannah in memory of her sister.
Now known as Sara Hannah Rigler, the 84-year-old survivor lives today in New York and has written a book, Ten British Prisoners of War Saved My Life.
Mr Pickles said the award, inaugurated in 2010, was “a terrific honour that counter-balances the dreadful stories that still grip us. Sara got the chance to have a life and raise her family, and do something, even though the Nazis thought they had liquidated her.”
Christopher Hammond spoke emotionally of his uncle’s experiences after he was captured by the Nazis in Belgium. Mr Hammond presented the Secretary of State with a booklet he had compiled of first-hand interviews, pictures and newspaper clippings.
“George would never talk about Sara by name – he just called her his ‘little sister,’” Mr Hammond said. “He said Sara was in a terrible state when they found her – he could get his hands around her thigh. All 10 of those men risked their lives to help Sara. If they had been caught by the guards during those four weeks, they would have been shot..”
George Hammond died aged 84 in August 2003. During an interview with his nephew, George recalled an incident in February 1945.
“I saw about 200-300 Jewish women and children being marched towards Danzig. They were all in a bad state. Two young girls... broke away from the column and ran into the farmyard where I was working. The guard shot one and the farmer axed the other through the head... I felt sick and sorry for them, unable to do anything as one of the guards held his rifle at me and made threatening gestures if I dared give any of the children food.”
Christopher Hammond now wants to find the remaining comrades who helped Sara. All ten men have been recognised as “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.