Prince Charles looked as touched to speak to the former child refugees as they were to speak to him at a reception to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Kindertransport.
Many of the 80 Kinder, members of the Association of Jewish Refugees (AJR) who had come to attend a lunch on Tuesday at St James’s Palace, shared their stories with the prince – as well as with each other. Some of them sang Happy Birthday to the Royal, who turned 70 last week, and one even brought him a card.
“On another table, they said, ‘I hope you live to 120,’” he told some Kinder. “But I’m not sure I want to!”
As well as joking with some of the Kinder about age-related health problems and discussing his grandchildren, the heir to the throne – who is a patron of World Jewish Relief, the precursor to which, the Central British Fund for German Jewry, was instrumental in bringing over and supporting 10,000 mainly Jewish children under the age of 17 from Nazi Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia – took a keen interest in their stories, visiting each table in turn.
Ruth Jacobs (née Heber), 90, who came from Innsbruck, Austria, aged 10 with her brother, Harry, told the prince she had lived with several families before being offered a scholarship to a grammar school in Stroud, and said how grateful she and other Kinder are for the opportunity of safe passage. “What a great privilege we have,” she said.
Meanwhile, Marcel Anisfeld, 84, told Charles how he and his sister Jacqueline Sheldon, 81, from Nowy Sacz in Poland, survived the war “by deportation” first by the Russians to Siberia, where they spent 18 months, and then to Uzbekistan, a story to which the prince listened with fascination. “Unbelievable,” he said. The pair, then aged nine and 12 respectively, arrived in the UK in 1946, through the efforts of Rabbi Dr Solomon Schonfeld, chaplain in the Forces.
Another AJR member, William Kaczinsky, showed the heir to the throne photographs of his mother, Edith Bach, a famous opera singer in Berlin known as the Nightingale of Konig Wusterhausen, who managed to escape to England with him and his brother. Kaczinsky gave Charles a CD of her music.
Upon hearing some of their stories, Charles said: “How do you get people to learn lessons after 70 years?” Eva Kugler, 87, replied: “We just keep telling our stories. I go into schools and I tell them, ‘When I was your age…’” “Do they listen?” he asked. “Oh, yes,” she replied. “They take it in.”
Judy Benton, 97, from Meissen near Dresden, came to the UK aged 17, on
a train wearing a nurse’s outfit. She never saw her parents again; they perished in Auschwitz. “I can never get over your stories,” said Charles. “Astonishing.”
Gerda Rothberg, 92, who came with her two sisters when she was nearly
13, was seated at the same table as Alfred Buechler, who also fled Nazi Germany aged nearly 14. Meeting for the first time and hearing each other’s stories, they realised that, incredibly, they had both travelled to the UK from Hamburg on the SS Washington on 30 June 1939.
“When I think what you have been through, I hope people have learned the lessons,” the prince, who has previously hosted receptions for the kinder organised by the AJR, told Buechler.
The heir was also interested to hear the story of 94-year-old Herman Rothman, who came to Britain from Berlin in 1939, volunteered for the British Army, becoming an interrogator of Nazis, and later translated Hitler’s will.
AJR chief executive Michael Newman said: “It was hugely symbolic and a truly special occasion for the Kinder to meet Prince Charles, someone who personifies the country that gave them refuge.”
The Prince of Wales today attended an event to mark the 80th anniversary of the Kindertransport effort, which brought around 10,000 children to safety during the lead up to WWII.
— Clarence House (@ClarenceHouseen) November 20, 2018