Inspirational stories of Jewish war heroes have been revealed for the first time, thanks to a new partnership between Chelsea Football Club and the RAF Museum.
The Chelsea Foundation has backed the ‘Hidden Heroes’ scheme which calls on Jewish veterans and their descendants to share stories of wartime heroism – ahead of the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain next year.
The project, which has the backing of club owner Roman Abramovich, was launched at Stamford Bridge ahead of this week’s fixture against Aston Villa.
During the event, attended by former Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech, Israel’s envoy to Britain Mark Regev and the government’s antisemitism adviser Lord John Mann, a video telling the story of Jewish Squadron Leader Lawrence ‘Benny’ Goodman, 99, was shown to guests.
A moment’s silence was then held for his fallen RAF friends and colleagues before a remembrance candle was lit by Goodman.
The 99-year-old was part of the elite 617 Squadron – also known as the ‘Dambusters’ – while Bernard Carton, 96, another veteran who was also present, was part of Bomber Command, and worked as a flight engineer. The family of rear-gunner Alfred Huberman, 96, also attended, after the veteran was too unwell to be there in person.
Regev said: “I’m here because I’m the ambassador, but also in a personal capacity. The people of Benny’s generation saved my family.”
He explained how his family were in the German town of Magdeburg, which was bombed in January 1945, allowing them to flee to the countryside, saving their lives.
“One day Bomber Command came over and they bombed the place. In the confusion and chaos – they ripped off the Jewish stars they were forced to wear by the Nazis, and escaped”.
Attended by the club’s chairman Bruce Buck and Sir Andrew Pulford, Chairman of the Trustees, RAF Museum, guests heard about the veterans’ stories before braving the cold to watch Chelsea defeat Aston Villa 2-1.
Buck paid tribute to the veterans, saying: “When we found out about the Hidden Heroes project at the RAF Museum in Hendon, it fit right within what we’re doing – focused on education”, which he said was “the key to wiping out all kinds of discrimination.”
He added that club owner Roman Abramovich “wanted to be a part of it, and has made a contribution to help preserve the stories of these men so future generations can benefit from them.”
Of around 70,000 Jews who served in the armed forces during the Second World War, approximately 20,000 were in the Royal Air Force, with Bomber Command – which was responsible for night-time air raids on Nazi-occupied territories, suffering one of the highest casualty rates.
Sir Andrew Pulford, Chairman of the Trustees, RAF Museum said he was “privileged” to be in the company of Benny Goodman, who is “very humble and very modest. You do not come out of training – and go to 617 Squadron unless you’re exceedingly good.”
Armed Forces Chaplain Rabbi Reuben Livingstone said Goodman was “one of the survivors, but we mustn’t forget your colleagues, we mustn’t forget the sacrifices that everyone made. And that is a peril slipping away from us, as time marches on, the greatest casualty is memory.
This comes after Chelsea launched its ‘Say No To Antisemitism’ initiative in January 2018.