Borehamwood resident Janette Hechel received a special visit from Austrian ambassador Michael Zimmerman last week, who delivered a prestigious award for her services to Holocaust education.
The Decoration of Merit in Gold, conferred on an average of three UK citizens each year, must be approved by Parliament, the home secretary and Austria’s president.
Hechel was recognised for her involvement in the Austrian government’s Gedenkdienst programme, which attaches young Austrians to Holocaust remembrance organisations in more than 20 countries.
She offered support to programme participants while she worked as the administrator of the UK education charity, the London Jewish Cultural Centre.
Her terminal cancer diagnosis in July 2019 meant the ceremony could not be held at the Austrian embassy. Instead, she was joined by a small group of close friends and family for a socially distanced ceremony and reception in her garden.
“For more than 20 years Janette Hechel contributed outstanding work to various Jewish dialogue and remembrance programmes in London,” said Zimmerman, praising her “professional and compassionate support” to Gedenkdienst participants.
Addressing the ceremony, Hechel said with a smile: “Things like this just don’t happen to me.”