Exhibit to recall the kinder of the castle
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Exhibit to recall the kinder of the castle

Between 1939 and 1941, Gwrych Castle near Abergele, was home to between 250 and 300 children from Central Europe who had fled Nazi tyranny on the Kindertransport.

Stephen is the Jewish News' Foreign Editor

The Grade 1 listed Gwrych Castle in Abergele from the air
The Grade 1 listed Gwrych Castle in Abergele from the air

The trust that bought a ruined castle in north Wales last year is calling on the Jewish community to help to design an interactive exhibition showcasing how it became a safe haven for hundreds of Jewish children

Between 1939 and 1941, Gwrych Castle, a Grade I listed country house near Abergele, was given over by its then-owner, the Earl of Dundonald, to between 250 and 300 children from Central Europe who had fled Nazi tyranny on the Kindertransport.

It became a model kibbutz and the UK base for Bnei Akiva, led by Arieh Handler, who taught the youngsters agriculture, forestry and other skills needed to work the land in Israel, in the years before the State of Israel was established.

Following the war, the castle – known as “the Showpiece of Wales” – was thrown open to the public, but fell into disuse in the 1980s and was stripped of its assets in the 1990s.

Historian Dr Mark Baker set up the Gwrych Castle Preservation Trust and last June bought the castle and its 250 acres following a grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund.

Baker told Jewish News the trust viewed it as a “priority” to include an “engaging and interactive” exhibition to the period when the castle provided sanctuary to Jewish teenagers forced to leave their homeland.

Children from the Kindertransport

“It’s a question of when, not if,” Baker said. “The castle plays an important role not just in the story of the Kindertransport but of the foundation of Israel. It was a safe haven for these children for two years. We want to celebrate their lives but do so in a way that resonates for today’s younger generations who will be visiting.”

John Edelnand, aged 94, was brought to the UK on the Kindertransport from Germany and stayed at the castle for two years. Today he lives in Luton and told Jewish News he supports plans to bring it back to life.

“I came over when I was 14, we stayed at a farm in Kent for a week before Mizrachi organised for us to go to Gwrych,” Edelnand said.

“There were about 100 of us. We spent two years there. I still send [the trust] cheques when I can.” Baker said Dundonald had given over “90 percent” of the castle to Jewish children after being inspired by his mother.

Children from the Kindertransport

“She was very active during the First World War, getting ambulances, setting up hospitals, even setting up a prisoner-of-war camp to show the German officers how prisoners should be treated. He’d seen all that, so in 1939 he saw the need to help those fleeing Nazi Germany, and decided that this was how the family could help.”

Recent archaeological digs have unearthed buried cutlery Baker’s team believes may stem from the time of the Kinder. “The archaeologist suggested this may stem from a practice in Orthodox Judaism, we’re not sure, but they date from that time.”

Grade 1 listed Gwrych Castle in Abergele from the air

Baker said the team had visited other historic venues such as Stowe “to see how they bring the place’s history alive” but said they would value Jewish input on Gwrych.

“We would love to work with Jewish groups to build connections. We’re very open to help support and ideas. If it comes from the Jewish community, that steer, then that would be incredibly helpful,” he said.

“The castle already gets a lot of visitors, many more once the work is completed, so this is now the design stage. Telling the history of the castle, the Kindertransport and the role the castle played, is an absolute priority.

“What we do will depend on how much money we raise. It’s not limited by imagination.”

 

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