OPINION: How British spy Frank Foley saved my grandpa

OPINION: How British spy Frank Foley saved my grandpa

Eleanor Segall offers her personal story of how a heroic humanitarian helped save 10,000 Jews including her grandpa

MP Ian Austin and Prince William unveil the statue of Frank Foley
MP Ian Austin and Prince William unveil the statue of Frank Foley

This week, in the Midlands town of Stourbridge, a bronze statue of Major Francis ‘Frank’ Foley was unveiled by HRH the Duke of Cambridge. Present were Ian Austin MP and the Holocaust Educational Trust team who spearheaded the campaign to have Foley honoured. Members of his family were also present, alongside members of some of the families he had saved from the Holocaust.

My family were honoured to be invited to the unveiling but could not attend, although we were touched that my grandpa Harry’s story was featured in the programme of the day.

Major Foley was a remarkable, courageous and selfless individual who saved an estimated 10,000 Jews  from the Holocaust.

He died in obscurity in Stourbridge in 1956 but in 1999, he became recognised as a righteous gentile by Yad Vashem after a groundbreaking book about his work was published .

Foley was a British MI6 undercover spy, working as a passport officer as a cover for his intelligence work in the Berlin passport office in the 1930s, whilst saving Jewish lives. This was at great risk to his own life and that of his wife and daughter.  He got Jews papers so they could escape abroad and in some cases, out of the camps.

Two of the lives he saved were my grandpa Harry Lorber and my great grandmother Sabina z’l.

This is their story and Foley’s incredible legacy.

My grandpa, who is now 92, was born Hermann ‘Harry’ Lorber in 1926 to Polish Jews Sabina Lorber and Shimon Goldstein in Germany.

The family lived in the coastal town of Stralsund where they owned a millinery (hat shop). Once the Nuremberg Laws were passed In 1933, a Nazi soldier was billeted outside my great-grandparents shop to stop anyone from entering and trading. The business soon folded and this put a lot of stress on Sabina and Shimon’s marriage.

They went on to divorce, with my great-grandma finding herself to be a single Jewish mother at the heart of Nazi Germany. She travelled with Harry to Berlin, where she had friends and came in search of work.

Life was not easy at all for Sabina and Harry (who was still a young child). It was hard economically and they were desperate to escape.

Sabina applied for visas across the world, in China, South America – to any country that would take her and her young son. They were all rejected. She had left family behind in what was now Nazi-occupied Poland and was trying to save other family members in Germany.

Grandpa Harry

It is impossible for me to understand the peril they were facing.

Sabina would have waited in long queues at the Berlin passport office begging for a visa to get her  to England.

She had a cousin there and a Jewish doctor was sponsoring her to come.

It is likely she pleaded her case in front of Foley and his staff.

As a single mother with a young child, they wouldn’t have survived without his help. Indeed, we know that my grandpas extended family left in Poland cruelly perished in Auschwitz- Birkenau death camp.

In 1938/9, Foley arranged for a mother and child visa for Sabina and Harry to come to England. They left on one of the last boats out of Nazi Germany, just a few months before the start of the Second World War.

Were it not for Foley’s courage, my families lives were unlikely to have been spared.

Grandpa is very proud of being saved by Major Foley, but sad that he could never thank him in person. He is honoured to have been mentioned in the statue unveiling programme and to see Foley being recognised for his work.

Grandpa Harry went on to become a naturalised British citizen and served in the British Armed Forces in the Second World War as an ambulance driver in Cyprus- where he met another cousin who had survived a Nazi death camp.

Grandpa later married my late grandma Doreen Tucker and they were together for 66 years. They have two daughters, one of whom is my Mum and five grandchildren and their spouses.

We thank Major Foley and his family for all they did to save our family and thousands of others from the clutches of evil. We also want to thank the HET and Ian Austin MP for honouring an incredible man this week.

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