Senior diplomats have paid tribute to a British banker and philanthropist who helped save 12,000 German and Austrian Jews from the Nazis at an event in London on Tuesday, ahead of Holocaust Memorial Day.
Otto Schiff, who died in 1952, was honoured with a British Hero of the Holocaust Award at a commemoration service at the Foreign Office.
Schiff, who was born into a well-known banking family in Frankfurt in 1875, emigrated to Britain where he lived in Mayfair and worked as a partner at a merchant banking firm with close ties to both British and German Jewry.
He first began helping Jewish refugees during the First World War, when the invasion of Belgium by Germany in 1914 caused large numbers of Belgians, including Jews, to flee to Britain.
In 1922 he became president of the Jews’ Temporary Shelter and a decade later he founded both the Jewish Refugees Committee and the Central British Fund for German Jewry, which later became WJR.
Between them, these two organisations saved the lives of tens of thousands of Jews from the hands of the Nazis from 1933 onwards, by making organisational arrangements to bring them to Britain, by helping them financially once here, and helping them find accommodation and employment.
Schiff was recognised for his efforts in his lifetime, being awarded a CBE in 1939, and the Association of Jewish Refugees said he “also earned the undying gratitude of Jewish refugees from Nazism” in an article published in 2014.
“Otto is an extremely fitting recipient of the award on this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day,” said Richard Verber, WJR’s head of external affairs: “We were proud to see him honoured and we congratulate his surviving family.”
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