If walls really could talk, then the remains of Gwrych Castle in North Wales would certainly have a captive audience.
While many will know it as the new location of ITV’s reality show, I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here!, the Abergele landmark has over the 200 years of its existence served as an aristocratic family house, a training venue for boxing, a medieval entertainment centre and even the backdrop of a Hollywood film.
But for 96-year-old Henry Glanz, Gwrych Castle has served a far more special purpose than all of that – for it was here that he, alongside 200 other children on the Kindertransport found a safe haven from Nazi persecution.
Polish-born Glanz was just 15 when he bade farewell to his parents and brother, who were then living in Kiel, Germany, and made his way onto the train that would begin his long journey to Britain.
At midnight on 1 September, 1939, the youngsters crossed the Dutch border. Just five hours later, the Nazi forces invaded Poland, prompting Henry to remark: “I must have been one of the last to get out.”
A ferry brought them to Harwich, then they embarked on a train to Liverpool Street and took another from Paddington up to North Wales. The entire journey took the best part of three days and, by the time they had arrived at their final destination, Britain was at war.
With just a few hours’ notice and the help of the Central British Fund (later known as World Jewish Relief), youth movement leader Arieh Handler managed to secure a home for the young refugees.
The sprawling castle that stretches more than 1,500 feet and boasts expansive views of the Irish Sea would become a base for his movement, Bachad, which aimed to prepare the youngsters for pioneering life in Palestine.
Bachad would later evolve into Bnei Akiva and it was here that the first national gathering of the youth movement took place in December 1940. But that was yet months in the making. When Glanz arrived, Gwrych Castle had not been lived in for many years and there were few amenities for the new residents.
Glanz, who today lives in East London, tells me: “When we arrived it was the middle of the night, it was dark and we had to sleep on straw beds. Apparently, the castle had been empty for 15 years.
“There was no electricity, no heating, no lighting and no toilets. We had no baths, so we had to wash in the Irish Sea. It was September, so it was quite cold and I discovered that salt water doesn’t dissolve soap!”
But despite their basic beginnings, “things eventually got better”.
Glanz recalls: “They set up Hebrew school and the Quakers from Abergele supplied us with furniture. It was a beautiful area and we worked for the local farmers. Some of the boys worked in the garages, while the girls helped out in the kitchen.”
While the youngsters tried to build some semblance of normality in their lives, they nevertheless worried about the family they had left behind.
“We didn’t know anything about our parents,” says Glanz.
Eventually, he discovered that his father Mordko had been ordered to leave Germany within 72 hours. He ended up in Belgium, while his mother, Esther, and 12-year-old brother, Joachim, were interned in Leipzig.
Glanz was able to write letters to them comprising just 25 words and via the Red Cross once a month.
He reveals: “I had a feeling my father censored some of my letters, because he didn’t want the Germans to know I was in England.”
After a short while, the letters to his mother came back following her deportation “to an unknown address”.
Years later, he discovered that his father had been murdered at Majdenek, while his mother and brother were taken to Auschwitz.
After one year at Gwrych Castle, the youngsters were asked to leave when its owner, the 12th Earl of Dundonald, was forced to sell the estate for financial reasons and it was then requisitioned by the War Office.
Glanz went on to live in different places, including Birmingham and London, where he was reunited iwith his sister, Gisella.
After the war, he served with the American army in Munich as a postal censor, before returning to England and meeting Bobbie, whom he married. She died aged 90 in 2016; they had been married for 67 years.
As for Gwrych Castle, Glanz has fond memories of the place he once called home and revisited it years later with his two sons during a family holiday to Wales.
“They were young at the time and got quite excited when we went to the castle. I showed them all the sights, all the secret passages.”
- I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here! continues every night on ITV, 9pm
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