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New project seeks Shoah survivors

11 September 2015


Fresh hopes: children on a train used in the "Kindertransport" say goodbye to their families, at a station in Germany, in November, 1938

Fresh hopes: children on a train used in the "Kindertransport" say goodbye to their families, at a station in Germany, in November, 1938

JEWISH leaders in Britain are trying to track down victims of the Holocaust who might not even know that they are Jewish.

Some were among the 10,000 children who escaped from Europe to Britain in the Kindertransport of 1938-39, and were brought up by Christian families; others include wartime refugees who even now deny their Jewish roots out of fear.

The Board of Deputies, a representative body of Jews in Britain, has launched the Shoah Survivor Support Project to find those who might be in need of financial, medical, or social help.

The Board’s spokesman, Simon Round, said: "We believe there may be a number who are practising Christians. We are looking for survivors who have lost touch with the Jewish community, and therefore may not be aware of the benefits they are entitled to."

There about 6000 survivors in the UK who are receiving help, but the Board is convinced that others have still to come forward.

The project’s researcher, Anna Scanlon, said: "There are those who were babies and never knew they were Jewish, or converted from Judaism to Christianity, or were raised by a Christian family and, when their own family never returned, were assimilated into the Christian faith.

"Also, a lot of people still won’t speak about it, and there are those suffering from dementia or mental illness, or who don’t want to be on any list that says that they are Jewish."

Survivors can claim a variety of benefits and services, such as therapy, day centres, payments from funds set up after the war, and reparations paid by Germany for its wartime activities. The project is funded by the Six Point Foundation.

The Kindertransport was set up by British groups to rescue Jewish children from Germany and Eastern European countries under Nazi control. The groups had to put up £50 sponsorship per child (equivalent to £3000 today) to prove that they would not be a burden on the British state, and foster families had to be found for them. The flow of refugees was halted by the declaration of war in September 1939.

In 1944, the Bishop of Chichester, the Rt Revd George Bell, an outspoken critic of Nazism, wrote in a pamphlet, A Letter to Friends of Refugees, of 13 refugees of Jewish origin who had become C of E priests. He also wrote: "You may sometimes hear uninformed people speaking as though refugees were only a liability, receiving shelter and support from this country but giving nothing in return. . .

"Those of us in close touch with refugees recently know that, however good their immediate prospects, they nearly all have a haunting sense of insecurity in the back of their minds.

"They feel that they are among us in their homes and jobs on sufferance, and they find themselves almost dreading the end of the war, because every day that brings peace nearer seems to also bring nearer the time when, being no longer wanted here, they will have to set out their wanderings again in search of a permanent settlement.

"How can we treat [requests to stay] merely as something to be granted or refused based on the grounds of economic expediency? ‘What can I do?’ you may ask. I would reply that by your attitude you can do a great deal. If you have the courage to sustain a point of view that may not be popular, you will be helping keep the public opinion sane and informed."

The Wiener Library for the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide, in London, holds testimony from a number of German Jewish refugees who converted to Christianity.

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