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Heroes are honoured for keeping Jews safe in Holocaust

The Chief Rabbi and the Archbishop of Canterbury attended an event at the Foreign Office commemorating British heroes of the Holocaust

    Boris Johnson with the Chief Rabbi at the Foreign Office ceremony (Photo: Foreign Office)
    Boris Johnson with the Chief Rabbi at the Foreign Office ceremony (Photo: Foreign Office)

    The daughters of a woman who evaded capture by the Nazis were reunited with the family of the “Holocaust hero” who sheltered her for 18 months at the Foreign Office HMD ceremony on Tuesday.

    Dorothea Weber was among eight British civilians and diplomats who helped to save Jews in the 1930s and 40s who were posthumously honoured as a British Hero of the Holocaust.

    Ms Weber — whose medal was collected by her second cousin Pierre Landick — risked her life to hide her friend Hedwig Bercu, who was being hunted by Hitler’s forces in Nazi-controlled Jersey.

    Ms Bercu — who later married Austrian soldier Kurt Ruemmele — had fled her home in Vienna as a young woman, arriving on the island via Paris.

    Her daughter Marion Oberer-Ruemmele told the JC: “Honestly, I am more than grateful that this woman, Dorothea Weber, hid my mother for all that time.

    “If she hadn’t, my mother would not have survived. They were looking for her, checking where she was. [The ceremony] was very emotional, of course, especially when they mentioned my mother’s name.

    “If it was not for Dorothea Weber me and my siblings would not be here.”

    Her mother had attempted to fake her suicide by placing a pile of her clothes with a note on the beach in St Aubin’s Bay. But Nazi troops had continued to search for her, placing a public notice in a regional newspaper requesting details of her whereabouts.

    Included in the notice was a warning that anyone helping Ms Bercu would leave themselves “liable to punishment”, meaning deportation to a concentration camp, Mr Landick explained.

    He said Ms Weber “had a difficult life — she was born an illegitimate child — and it could be what made her sympathetic to the plight of the underdog in general.

    “If she had been caught, she would have been shipped out to a concentration camp, as many people were.

    “One can only hope Dorothea is looking down and seeing, belatedly, that what she did has now been recognised. And that’s why, from our side, it’s important to keep commemorating these things.”

    Addressing the ceremony, which was co-hosted by the Israeli embassy, the Chief Rabbi and the Archbishop of Canterbury focused on the importance of speaking out against injustice. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson read a passage from Anne Frank’s diary.

    Survivor Gena Turgel spoke movingly about losing all eight of her siblings during the Shoah. She received a standing ovation after her speech, during which she also described surviving three concentration camps before being liberated in 1945 by her future husband Norman, a British Army sergeant.

    “It is important we learn the lessons from this terrible time,” she said. “I want our children and grandchildren to be happy.”

    The other posthumous British Heroes of the Holocaust were Doreen Warriner and Trevor Chadwick, who worked with Sir Nicholas Winton to arrange the transportation of thousands of Jews — mostly children —from Czechoslovakia to the UK.

    Mr Chadwick’s son Charles told the JC: “What he saw there affected him for the rest of his life. He always blamed himself for not helping more children. He had thousands on his books. More than pride, I think he felt guilt.

    “But as his story emerged, some years after the war, it made me hugely proud and it has ever since.”

    Also recognised were Foreign Office diplomats John Carvell, Sir Thomas Preston and Margaret Reid, who helped to issue Jews with documents to help them flee the Nazis. Sir George Ogilvie-Forbes was honoured for reporting on the Kristallnacht atrocities.

    Otto Schiff was recognised for helping to establish the Jewish Refugees Committee, which arranged to bring Jews from Germany and Austria to the UK and also provided them with financial support.

    Mr Johnson said afterwards: “The moral conviction and bravery of the British Heroes of the Holocaust should fill us with pride.

    “These exceptional individuals saved hundreds of lives and went above and beyond the call of duty in the most difficult circumstances to do the right thing.”

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