The Association of Jewish Refugees (AJR) hosted its annual Holocaust Memorial Day service on Monday at the Belsize Square Synagogue.
The poignant ceremony brought together Holocaust survivors, their families, politicians and guests to remember the victims of the Holocaust and reflect on the high-risk rescue missions that saved some from Nazi persecution.
This year's service highlighted the 85th anniversaries of two significant rescue efforts: the Kindertransport and the lesser known Kitchener Camp rescue.
Holocaust survivor Lady Milena Grenfell-Baines MBE told guests how she and her sister were rescued from Prague by Sir Nicholas Winton's Kindertransport in July 1939.
“When Sir Nicholas came to Prague, he had a queue of 2,000 families all asking to get their children on his list,” Milena recalled. “We never knew how my sister and I managed to get on that train. As we were leaving Prague, we held hands and said: ‘We’re not going to cry.’”
Holocaust survivor Lady Milena Grenfell-Baines MBE speaks at the Holocaust Memorial Day service of AJR in London Belzise Sq Synagogue on 22 1 2024. Photos taken by Adam Soller Photography©
She said that her parents, who had managed to escape to the UK separately, had never talked about it. “For 40 years we had no idea how we came to England.”
During the war, Milena attended a Czech boarding school in Shropshire, where a girl told her they had been on the same Kindertransport train.
Years later, Milena pieced together the mystery of her train journey. She had been in the kitchen with her children when the phone rang and “a woman said: ‘This is Esther Rantzen.’”
Milena was invited to the BBC studios for That’s Life, where Winton was surprised to meet some of the many adults he had saved as children.
The AJR service, which was officiated by Rabbi Gabriel Botnik, centred on the 2024 theme for Holocaust Memorial Day —‘The fragility of freedom’.
Holocaust survivors and relatives at the Holocaust Memorial Day service of AJR in London Belzise Sq Synagogue on 22 1 2024. Photos taken by Adam Soller Photography©
Guest speaker Amos Schonfield shared his grandfather, Rabbi Schonfeld’s rescue story — helping to organise Kindertransport, as well as his tireless dedication after the war in assisting those who had survived the concentration camps.
In his remarks, AJR CEO Michael Newman reflected on the “fragility of freedom” and the vital importance of remembering the victims of Nazi terror:
“The history and experiences of our members underscore, in the rawest sense, just how quickly humanity can crumble. Today, it is vital, that as a nation, we collectively remember the victims of the Holocaust. Both to honour those whose lives were ripped apart by antisemitism and to ensure that the experiences of the survivors and refugees and their families are never forgotten.”
AJR CEO Michael Newman at the Holocaust Memorial Day service 2024 of AJR in London Belzise Sq Synagogue on 22 1 2024. Photos taken by Adam Soller Photography©
Neil Martin, chief executive JLGB, recalled the story of the Kitchener Camp rescue — a remarkable wartime mission, which used a derelict army base in Kent to give refuge to 4,000 men from the Nazis. The project was devised by the Central British Fund for German Jewry (today World Jewish Relief) and The Jewish Lads Brigade (now JLGB).
Holocaust survivors light six candles at the Holocaust Memorial Day service of AJR in London Belzise Sq Synagogue on 22 1 2024. Photos taken by Adam Soller Photography©
During the proceedings, six AJR Holocaust survivors and refugees illuminated memorials in a candle-lighting ceremony.
Guests of honour included Tulip Siddiq MP and representatives from the German, Austrian, Polish, Slovak, Ukrainian and Czech embassies in London.
The AJR is a national charity supporting Holocaust refugees and survivors living in Great Britain.