Tributes to ‘wonderful, jovial’ refugee, who inspired survivors to make aliyah
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Tributes to ‘wonderful, jovial’ refugee, who inspired survivors to make aliyah

Herbert Haberberg, who has died aged 96, spoke Yiddish to destitute survivors after the Shoah, convincing them to move to the new Jewish state.

Herbert Haberberg (Screenshot from http://turnstunde-film.de/interview-herrn-haberberg-london/)
Herbert Haberberg (Screenshot from http://turnstunde-film.de/interview-herrn-haberberg-london/)

Heartfelt tributes have been paid to a remarkable kindertransport refugee who supported survivors of Belsen in the aftermath of the Holocaust.

Shoah educators paid respects to Herbert Haberberg, 96, who used his Yiddish to convince destitute victims of the Nazis to move to the young Jewish state.

Born in Germany in 1924, he arrived in the UK on the Kindertransport aged 14, with his younger brother Manfred, but the two were separated and only able to see each other every six months.

While Herbert learned English and Yiddish fluently, Manfred, aged six in 1938, forgot how to speak German.

By 1941 Herbert moved to London, before joining the British Army in 1944 as part of the Jewish Brigade, fighting the Nazis in Italy, before being moved to Brussels, and then to Hamburg.

Last year, to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen, Herbert told Jewish News how he worked with “the wonderful Jewish Relief Unit”, an arm of Jewish Committee for Relief Abroad, which was set up by World Jewish Relief, to support Belsen survivors after the Holocaust.

Herbert Haberberg (Photographed by Mike Stone / reminiscences.uk)

Herbert, said he joined the army “to fight the Germans”, but by 1946, was still in uniform and was stuck in a records office in Hamburg. By chance a Church of England clergyman suggested he should meet the Unit.

He told Jewish News: “The Jewish Relief Unit had one great drawback — almost none of them spoke Yiddish.” Herbert spent weekends at the camp, witnessing the “abysmal conditions”, including a rampant typhoid infection.

He said: “The British government didn’t want to know, and their main idea was to prevent these people getting in to [mandate] Palestine”.

He used his Yiddish to persuade the survivors to go to southern Europe and board the illegal ships to Mandatory Palestine. “These people were frustrated, demoralised, they felt they had no future. So going to what became the state of Israel… it was a good choice”, he said.

Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust said: “After learning about the existence of Bergen Belsen concentration camp, he spent the next couple of years volunteering his free time as a Yiddish interpreter for the Jewish survivors in the Belsen Displaced Persons camp, encouraging many of them to emigrate to the fledgling State of Israel.”

He was a wonderful man, with a fascinating story and hugely generous with his time.”

Michael Newman, chief executive of Association of Jewish Refugees said: “Herbert was an indefatigable member of the AJR, always ready with an anecdote or to retell a story of historical importance. He was also a popular presence at our gatherings with his jovial and humourous manner. He will be greatly missed.”

Herbert was advised by the Jewish Agency that he was more useful to them in Germany than Israel, and stayed there until he was demobilised in 1948. He got married and became a successful metal trader — as did his brother, Manfred, living in Cockfosters.

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