UK PM honors Brits who saved Jews during Holocaust

“It is right that we reflect and learn from the past as we go forward in the future,” British prime minister says.

By JONNY PAUL, JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDENT
March 10, 2010 03:44
Gordon Brown greets Denis Avey at Downing Street a

gordon brown brit ceremony 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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British Prime Minister Gordon Brown honored more than 20 British heroes who saved the lives of Jews during the Holocaust, at a special ceremony at 10 Downing Street on Tuesday.

It is the first time such recognition has been bestowed by the state as a tribute to civilians who undertook extraordinary acts of courage and self-sacrifice in order to help others.

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The award was announced last year by Brown after a visit to Auschwitz and following a campaign by the Holocaust Education Trust to honor those who undertook incredible acts of bravery to help Jews and other persecuted groups during the Holocaust.

“It is right that we reflect and learn from the past as we go forward in the future,” the prime minister said. “That is why I was pleased to create a new award to recognize those amazing British individuals who through extraordinary and selfless acts of bravery protected and rescued Jews and others in the Holocaust.”

Two of the award recipients accepted it in person: Denis Avey, 91, who as a British prisoner of war risked his life and swapped clothes with a Jewish prisoner in Auschwitz, and Sir Nicholas Winton, 100, who rescued 669 children from Czechoslovakia.

“These individuals are true British heroes and a source of national pride for all of us. They were shining beacons of hope in the midst of terrible evil because they were prepared to take a stand against prejudice, hatred and intolerance. We pay tribute to them for the inspiration they provide now and for future generations to come,” Brown said.

“We often think a hero is magical, a superstar, but it is impossible not to be moved by the almost incredible stories of these ordinary individuals,” Minister for Cohesion and Faith Shahid Malik said. “They illustrate how it is possible for the human spirit to rise up against such wicked and unspeakable acts of horror.



“The profound hurt, terror and destruction inflicted on fellow human beings during the Holocaust is a lesson of yesterday that is sadly still relevant today. The sheer horror of the Holocaust must serve as a reminder about the depths to which human beings can fall.

“This award is a true opportunity to continue to celebrate the values of our country through the experiences of people who at times put the lives of their family in danger and even sacrificed their own in order to help others,” Malik added.

Those receiving the award posthumously, whose relatives attended the ceremony and accepted the award on their behalf, include June Ravenhall, a British housewife living in Holland who sheltered a young Jewish man even after her husband had been taken to a concentration camp; Jane Haining from Scotland, who was sent to Auschwitz after caring for 400 Jewish girls in occupied Hungary, and Bertha Bracey, who lobbied the British government during the 1930s to accept persecuted Jewish refugees. Her efforts established the Kindertransport which took an estimated 10,000 mainly Jewish children from mainland Europe to Britain.

Those who received the award in person are:

• Sir Nicholas Winton – from Maidenhead, organized the rescue of 669 mainly Jewish children by train from Prague in 1939.

• Denis Avey – Derbyshire, a former prisoner of war who helped German Jewish inmate Ernst Lobethall to survive Auschwitz.

The complete list of those who received the award posthumously is:

• Sister Agnes Walsh – from Hull, sheltered a family from December 1943 in her convent in Cadouin, Dordogne, in France.

• Albert Bedane – a physiotherapist in Jersey, who sheltered escaped French POW and Russian slave laborers and also a Dutch Jewish woman. Albert hid them in the cellar while he treated Nazi soldiers in his clinic in the room above.

• Ida and Louise Cook – London, two sisters who as opera devotees, travelled to Europe for musical recitals before the outbreak of war. They took with them British visas they had worked hard to secure for Jews needing to escape Nazi occupied Germany. On their return journey, they smuggled jewels, furs and valuables back to England on behalf of the families. Ida wrote many titles for publishers Mills and Boon, which partly funded their missions to rescue 29 people.

• Sergeant Charles Coward – Edmonton, who as a POW in Auschwitz was appointed Red Cross liaison for 1,400 British POWs. He used this position to smuggle food and contraband to Jewish inmates and smuggled himself into the Jewish camp in order to confirm the horrific conditions there.

• Major Frank Foley – Somerset. Working as a spy in the British embassy in Berlin, Frank risked his life by issuing false visas to desperate Jews. It is documented that he saved 10,000 people.

• Jane Haining – Dunscore, Scotland. Jane had worked as school matron at a Jewish orphanage in Budapest. When war broke out, she was in England and immediately returned to look after her girls. She was arrested in April 1944 and eventually sent to Auschwitz, where she died.

• June Ravenhall – Warwickshire. June was a British housewife living in Holland with her husband and three children. When war broke out, her husband Les was taken to a prison camp and never seen again. June agreed to shelter a young Jew called Louis Velleman for a long period of time, even though she knew his discovery would mean almost certain death.

• Sofka Skipwith – Cornwall. Sofka was born into Russian aristocracy but arrived in Britain after the revolution. She was arrested in November 1940 after protesting at an anti-Nazi rally and was interned. She saved a newborn baby by smuggling him to the Red Cross and enabled many people to escape by using the contacts she built up.

• Princess Alice of Greece – England. Princess Alice was mother to the Duke of Edinburgh. She worked to organize shelters for orphan children and sheltered three Jewish women when Greece was occupied.


• Bertha Bracey – England, worked tirelessly to lobby the British government about the plight of the Jews in Germany. She was instrumental in setting up the Kindertransport which brought 10,000 mainly Jewish children to England from mainland Europe.

• Louisa Gould, Ivy Forester, Harold le Druillenec – Jersey, were two sisters and a brother. Louisa and Ivy sheltered two Russian POWs while Harold taught them English. All three were arrested and Louisa was sent to Ravensbrueck camp, where she perished. Harold was the last surviving British citizen at Belsen.

• Henk Huffener – Guildford. Henk took British citizenship in 1950 when he moved to England. Up until then he had lived in Holland where he worked hard to smuggle Jews out of the country to Switzerland and Spain.

• Stan Wells, Alan Edwards, George Hammond, Roger Letchford, Tommy Noble, John Buckley, Bill Scruton, Bert Hambling, Bill Keeble, Willy Fisher – 10 British POWs who saved the life of 15-year-old Jewish girl Hannah Sara Rigler, who escaped the death march outside Danzig, while her mother and sister perished. Sara is still alive and lives in New York.

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