45 Aid Society survivors in emotional reunion with Norman Shepherd after 74 years apart, as Home Secretary promises Victoria Tower Gardens Holocaust memorial will ‘absolutely’ be built
16 surviving members of ‘The Boys’ were reunited last night with the RAF serviceman who flew them to Britain in August 1945.
Norman Shepherd was just 20 when he received orders to collect 732 surviving children from Prague and fly them to Crosby, near the Lake District. The Jewish survivor group later formed the 45 Aid Society, to raise money for survivors and teach the lessons of the Holocaust.
During an emotional reunion, Mr Shepherd recalled feeling “very pleased” at being able to take the children out of mainland Europe.
“I handed the children chocolate during the plane journey to try to cheer them up,” he said.
“At first, they thought I was going to beat them- for they’d never known kindness from a man in uniform. But once they saw I wasn’t going to hurt them they flung their arms around me and hugged me.”
In a touching moment, the 94-year-old recreated that scene by handing each survivor a piece of chocolate, smiling as he met them individually on stage.
Speaking to The Jewish News, Harry Spiro, one of ‘The Boys’, said he felt “overwhelmed with gratitude” upon being reunited with the RAF pilot.
“This has been a very emotional evening for us as survivors,” he added. “I feel happy to be here tonight, surrounded by so many generations, and I feel very optimistic for the future.”
Judge Robert Rinder, grandson of one of ‘The Boys’ Moishe Malenicky, thanked the RAF veteran “for being our shepherd and delivering us to safety.”
The 300 guests, gathered at their annual reunion dinner at the Hilton Hotel in Wembley, also heard from Sajid Javid who said he could think of “few things more important than teaching one’s children the lessons of the Holocaust.”
“I think it is so important for the younger generation to hear stories of the Holocaust, especially if they’re privileged enough to hear them from survivors as it makes them a witness to what happened. If we want the next generation not to forget the horrors of the Holocaust we need our children to learn.”
The Home Secretary also recalled bringing his family to hear the story of Harry Spiro after briefly meeting him at a Holocaust Education Trust dinner.
To great applause, Mr Javid also promised the proposed Holocaust memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens “will absolutely happen”, adding that it was most important “for parliamentarians today and in future generations to have a constant reminder of what happens when politics and society goes wrong.”
This weekend members of ‘The Boys’- along with dozens of their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren- will return to Prague to recreate the iconic photographs taken in front of the Jan Hus memorial in August 1945.
The group’s itinerary also includes Friday night dinner in the Jewish Quarter and a visit to the Theresienstadt concentration camp.
Reflecting on the evening, Lord Pickles said: “Tonight has made clear just what a great loss Europe faced 70 years ago as so much potential happiness and creativity was wiped away by bigotry. There can be no doubt that ‘The Boys’ have made this country a better place for everyone.”