Almost 70 men, women, and children have taken part in an extraordinary “wild swim” down the River Elbe in Kolin, Prague, in an initiative sparked by a UK Channel swimmer, and the daughter of a Holocaust survivor.
The Hana Greenfield Memorial Swim was held to commemorate the life and times of one of the few survivors of the Nazi deportation of the 500 Jews of Kolin. Greenfield swam regularly in the Elbe in the 1930s before being deported to Terezin and then to Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen.
After liberation, she moved to Britain then Israel, becoming a noted author, journalist and educator. She helped to keep the memory of Kolin’s Jews alive, instituting an annual prize for school students to write about the town’s Jewish heritage.
Kolin and Northwood and Pinner Liberal Synagogue have long been connected, as the congregation holds one of the town’s prized Czech Memorial Scrolls.
When Greenfield’s daughter, Meira Partem, wanted to commemorate her mother’s life and work, she contacted NPLS member Jane Drapkin, an experienced “wild swimmer” who has also swum the English Channel.
The two planned a weekend of events which included services at Kolin’s 320-year-old synagogue conducted by NPLS emeritus rabbi Andrew Goldstein, and the swim, organised by Kolin’s swimming club. The river has just been cleaned, making the event the first time for 80 years people have been able to swim freely in the waters.
The date coincided with the birthdate of legendary Kolin rabbi Dr Richard Feder, who conducted Christian as well as Jewish funerals in Terezin, where he was interned for most of the war.
Rabbi Feder returned to build a memorial to the more than 500 members of his congregation who died and went on to become the first Chief Rabbi of Bohemia and Moravia. He died, aged, 95, in 1970.
Sixteen swimmers from the UK took part in the event, together with participants from Israel, Serbia, Germany and Belgium, as well as the local Kolin club members. Also taking part was the oldest participant, Sue Bard, 73, from Edinburgh’s Sukkat Shalom Liberal Community.
Many children also took part, plus Hana Greenfield’s widower, Murray, 92, and four generations of the Greenfield family from Israel.