Clare Hollingworth, war correspondent and rescuer of thousands of refugees, dies at 105

Clare Hollingworth served as a war correspondent for over four decades, but her greatest achievement came just prior to the beginning of her career in journalism.


Veteran war correspondent Clare Hollingworth, who has died at the age of 105, helped to save thousands of refugees – many of them Jews – prior to the outbreak of the Second World War.

Ms Hollingworth, who during a long career in journalism on the Telegraph, the Economist and the Guardian, spent five months in early 1939 working for the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia (BCRC), attempting to process visas for refugees – primarily Jews and Communists.

It is estimated that during that period – March to July - she managed to help provide visas for between 2,000 and 3,000 refugees, helping them to come to Britain just before the war broke out.

The story of Ms Hollingworth’s efforts only became widely known after her great-nephew, Patrick Garrett, found a hand-written certificate at the bottom of a family trunk.

After conducting research at the National Archives in Kew, he discovered hundreds of documents relating to her attempts to save people. She had never gone into much detail regarding her efforts;  her autobiography contained only a brief mention of her time at the BCRC .  

In an article in the Telegraph, Mr Garrett wrote that at the time “concern was growing in Whitehall about the desirability of having so many German-speaking aliens arriving in Britain… when in the summer of 1939 the BCRC was subsumed into a new organisation, Clare was not kept on; there were suspicions that the security services had blocked her re-appointment.”

However, her presence in Katowice that August, in her first week as a correspondent for the Telegraph, led to her uncovering a story which is widely regarded as the “scoop of the century.”

On August 28, Ms Hollingworth discovered that the German Wehrmacht was massed on the border, ready to invade. The Telegraph’s front page story the next day was “1,000 tanks massed on Polish border; ten divisions reported ready for swift stroke”. Germany invaded two days later; two days after that, Britain and France declared war on the Nazi aggressor.

Ms Hollingworth’s later career, in which she travelled the globe reporting on conflicts, saw her and her then husband briefly stationed in British Mandate Palestine. In 1946, the two of them were 300 metres up the road when the Irgun bombed the King David Hotel, then the headquarters of the British Mandate authorities.

As reported by the BBC, she later refused to greet Menachem Begin, the man behind the attack, saying she “would not shake a hand with so much blood on it.”

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