British Ort solves refugee mystery


British Ort, the Jewish education charity, has helped puzzled police uncover the history of a German refugee who died alone in his London flat.

The charity was contacted last week by the missing persons' department at Marylebone police station, which was searching for the next-of-kin of Franz Joseph Nebel. Mr Nebel's body was found by police in his home in October.

When searching his Maida Vale flat, police came across an article from Germany about a group visit to Berlin in 1989.

The group, known as the Old Boys, had been pupils of the Ort school in Berlin, set up in 1936 for German Jewish children who could not go to mainstream schools because of Nazi persecution.

The school's equipment was bought by British ORT, which meant that to confiscate it would be to seize the goods of a foreign country, in itself a declaration of war.

Under the protection of British ORT, the school survived Kristallnacht and the November 1938 pogrom, remaining the only institution unaffected by the escalating trouble.

Eventually, the head of British Ort, Colonel Joseph Levey, and the school's head, Dr Warner Simon, decided to relocate the 215 pupils, and the school, to the UK.

A first group of 104 boys and seven teachers left Charlottesburg Station three days before the outbreak of the Second World War.

The second group, due to leave on September 3, never made it out of Berlin once war was declared on September 1.

The boys stayed at a Kitchener Camp in southern England for six months before their new Ort school was established in Leeds.

Franz Nebel, born in September 1923, and his older brother, Kurt, were two of the Old Boys. Franz joined the British Army's Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers in 1943, and outlived both his brother and his own wife.

He returned to Berlin in 1989 with British Ort on a 50th anniversary commemorative trip.

Police discovered his body on October 19 and believe he died alone a month earlier.

Noga Zivan, director of fundraising at Ort, said: "We had a reunion event in July to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Leeds school and it was because of this that I started learning about the history.

"This was very fortunate because I had a lot of information to give to the police.

"They are still searching for a next-of-kin. Usually, if one is not found, bodies are cremated and buried at a Christian cemetery, but we have been given permission by the coroner to give him a Jewish funeral.

"I have rung around all the burial societies to find out if he was a member anywhere but it doesn't appear he is.

"It's incredibly sad to find out the one of the Leeds Old Boys died in these circumstances. We are doing everything we can to help the police and we will aim to ensure he has a Jewish funeral."

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