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A child Holocaust survivor will retrace his escape route by bicycle

(JTA) — Paul Alexander, a former child refugee from Nazi Germany, is embarking on a bike trip that will retrace his original journey to freedom, paying tribute to the Kindertransport effort that saved him and thousands of other Jewish children 80 years ago.

Now 81, Alexander was a toddler when his mother handed him to a volunteer nurse on a train leaving Nazi Germany in 1938.

“I did this journey 79 years ago when I came out from the hatred of Nazi Germany to the safety in England,” Alexander told Agence France-Presse. “It’s extremely exciting and emotional to do this journey again after such a long time.”

The Kindertransport was an initiative that rescued 10,000 Jewish children from the Nazis by bringing them to the United Kingdom. Alexander sees his trip, following his original route, as a rejoinder to not only the hatred of Nazi Germany but to Hitler himself.

“The thought that came to my head is that this is my answer to Hitler,” he told AFP, “to sort of prove to myself, to show the world and to express my thanks for succeeding in life and being a happy married man with a family.”

“Having survived the Holocaust, having a family, being successful, this is my victory,” Alexander told the British Jewish News. “I won.”

Alexander’s trip will run from July 17 to 22, and will cover 600 miles over six days. It will start at a monument to the Kindertransport in central Berlin, go down the Dutch coastline, then onto a ferry to Harwich, United Kingdom before ending at London’s Liverpool Street Station.

Alexander will be joined by his son Nadav and grandson Daniel, in addition to 39 other cyclists. Some of the cyclists, who come from England, Israel, Indonesia and the U.S., are descendants of other children rescued 80 years ago, while others are taking part in memory of the escapees. World Jewish Relief, an aid organization that is the successor to the agency that carried out the Kindertransport, will fund the trip.

“We have organized this ride as a tribute to the amazing life-saving work of our predecessors,” Rafi Cooper, the charity’s director of communications, told AFP. “Tens of thousands of people would not be alive today were it not for their heroism back then.”

The Kindertransport began following Kristallnacht, the massive Nazi pogrom in November 1938 seen as one of the first major violent acts of the Holocaust. Protestant, Jewish and Quaker leaders appealed to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to allow the emigration of unaccompanied Jewish children to the United Kingdom.

The first Kindertransport arrived at Harwich, England on Dec. 2, 1938, carrying 196 children from a Jewish orphanage in Berlin that had been torched by the Nazis on Kristallnacht. In the coming 18 months, 10,000 children fleeing Nazi-occupied Central Europe were brought to eventual safety in Britain.

“Seeing a child of one year and eight months away, you’ll appreciate it’s heartrending,” Alexander told BBCabout his own journey to freedom. He says he has no recollection of the journey and that his first memories are of being in the London Underground during the Nazi bombings in 1940.

“I can’t imagine myself how can someone give his baby [away] without knowing if he will ever see him again,” Alexander’s son, Nadav, who himself has a toddler, told AFP. “It’s incredible. So this is an amazing journey for the three of us,” referencing his father and son.

In an aberration from many Holocaust-era survival stories, Alexander’s parents would soon join him in safety. His father was released from the Buchenwald concentration camp provided that he would leave Germany, and arrived in England 13 days after Alexander. His mother arrived on Sept. 1, 1939, the day the Nazis invaded Poland. Most of the children on the Kindertransport, he said, did not see their parents again.

Alexander later became a lawyer in London, and married an Israeli. They have three children and nine grandchildren, and moved to Israel, where they now live. Although Alexander retired from the bank where he worked as legal counsel in 2002, he continues to work today as a notary.

Sunday’s journey, he told AFP, is “a symbolic victory ride.”

“It is a very meaningful and poignant way of celebrating my life,” he said. “I thought it was poignant to do it with child and grandson.”

After Alexander and his fellow cyclists arrive in London, another of the surviving kinder, Rabbi Harry Jacobi, will lead a Kaddish.

Dutch King, Lithuanian president honor unsung Holocaust hero

Multi-media monument honors Jan Zwartendijk, who saved 2,500 Jews. ‘Both the Netherlands and Lithuania are proud of him.’

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Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite

Reuters

Lithuania’s president and the King of the Netherlands on Friday unveiled a special light installation dedicated to a Dutch diplomat credited with saving over 2,000 Jews during the Holocaust.

The multi-media monument in the Baltic state’s second city of Kaunas symbolizes the lives saved by Jan Zwartendijk, who helped issue visas to Jews in the summer of 1940.

“I am very proud to light the installation for the silent hero who had never boasted that he saved people,” Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said at the ceremony, standing alongside Dutch King Willem-Alexander.

“Both the Netherlands and Lithuania are proud of him. He saved nearly 2,500 Jews, risking his own life,” she added.

Zwartendijk, the director of the Philips company in Lithuania, was appointed the acting Dutch consul in July 1940, weeks after the Red Army entered the Baltic state.

Fearing persecution, many Jewish refugees decided to flee the Soviet-occupied country, including thousands who had arrived from neighboring Nazi-occupied Poland.

Zwartendijk provided them papers stating that Jews could reach the Dutch Caribbean territory of Curacao. The “Curacao visa” served as a key to Japanese transit visas and Soviet exit visas.

None of the refugees actually arrived in Curacao, but many of them reached free countries or ended up in Shanghai where they survived the Second World War.

After the Soviet Union annexed Lithuania, Zwartendijk was forced to shut the consulate in Kaunas in August 1940, and returned to Holland to work for Philips.

His son Rob, who attended Friday’s ceremony, said his father never spoke about his role in saving Jews from Nazi German genocide, insisting that his actions were not special.

Those who were unable to flee met a tragic fate: more than 90 percent of over 200,000 Lithuanian Jews perished under the Nazi German occupation from 1941 to 1944.

Today, there are around 3,000 Jews living in Lithuania, a NATO and eurozone country of 2.8 million people.

Zwartendijk was named a “Righteous Among the Nations” gentile by Israel’s Yad Vashem Yad Holocaust memorial in 1977.

Virginia to dedicate highway marker honoring diplomat who helped 1,200 Hungarian Jews escape the Holocaust

Associated Press, June 15, 2018.  Click for report from Bradenton Herald.

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A state historical highway marker will be dedicated this month to a diplomat from Virginia who helped 1,200 Hungarian Jews escape the Holocaust.

Lynchburg native James Rives Childs served in the U.S. Army as a code breaker in France during World War I. After working for the American Relief Administration in the Balkans and the Soviet Union, Childs began a 30-year diplomatic career.

During World War II, as charge d’affaires for the American Legation in Tangier, Morocco, he helped Hungarian Jews obtain visas to Spanish Morocco.

In 1946, President Harry Truman presented Childs with the Medal of Freedom. Childs also served as a U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia and Ethiopia. Childs died in Richmond in 1987.

 

Gena Turgel, who tended to a dying Anne Frank at concentration camp, dies in U.K.

Gena Turgel in her north London home in January 2001.
Gena Turgel in her north London home in January 2001. Photograph: Tom Pilston/the Independent/Rex/Shutterstock
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A Holocaust survivor who became known as the Bride of Belsen after she married a British soldier involved in the liberation of the Nazi death camps has died aged 95.

Gena Turgel, who survived the Kraków ghetto, a death march, Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, spent much of her life teaching British schoolchildren about the horrors of the Holocaust.

Karen Pollock, the chief executive of the Holocaust Education Trust, said Turgel was “the most beautiful, elegant and poised lady. Her strength, determination and resilience were unwavering, her powerful and wise words an inspiration.

“Gena dedicated her life to sharing her testimony to hundreds of thousands in schools across the country. Her story was difficult to hear and difficult for her to tell, but no one who heard her speak will ever forget. A shining light has gone out today and will never be replaced.”

Gena Turgel is greeted by the Queen at a Buckingham Palace garden party in May 2015.
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Gena Turgel is greeted by the Queen at a Buckingham Palace garden party in May 2015. Photograph: WPA/Getty
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Turgel was 16 when the Nazis bombed her home town of Kraków, Poland, in September 1939. Two years later, she, her mother and four of her nine siblings moved to the ghetto, with only a sack of potatoes, some flour and a few personal belongings.

One brother was shot by the SS in the ghetto; another fled and was never seen again. A sister and her husband were shot after being caught trying to smuggle food into the Płaszów labour camp.

In the winter of 1944-45, Turgel, her mother and sister were sent to Auschwitz. Later she and her mother were forced to join a death march, leaving behind the sister, whom they never saw again.

They eventually arrived at Bergen-Belsen, where Turgel worked in a hospital. “When I arrived in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, I saw heaps of bodies lying around. Not just one or two but mountains as high as a tree in the garden,” she told the Sun in 2015.

“You could not distinguish if they were men or women – bones, skeletons, children’s bodies. You can’t possibly imagine the state of the place, it was horrendous.”

She helped care for Anne Frank, who was dying from typhus. “She was delirious, terrible, burning up. I gave her cold water to wash her down,” Turgel said.

“We did not know she was special, but she was a lovely girl. I can still see her lying there with her face, which was so red as she had a breakout. And then she died.”

Gena Turgel with a picture of her husband, Norman, one of the first liberators to enter the Belsen death camp on 15 April 1945.
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Gena Turgel with a picture of her husband, Norman, one of the first liberators to enter the Belsen death camp on 15 April 1945. Photograph: Andrew Parsons/PA
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On 15 April 1945, the British army liberated Bergen–Belsen. Among the soldiers was Norman Turgel, whom Gena married six months later wearing a wedding dress made from a British army parachute – now in the Imperial War Museum in London. The British press called her the Bride of Belsen.

Jonathan Sacks, a former chief rabbi, said Turgel was “one of the most remarkable Holocaust survivors I had the privilege to know”.

He said: “She was a blessing and inspiration to our community. Her work to educate generations about the horrors of the Holocaust was as powerful as it was tireless. Throughout her life, she lit countless candles in the human heart and helped bring much light to the world.”

Turgel’s memoir, I Light a Candle, was published in 1987.

Gena Turgel examines a Holocaust memorial board at Belfast City Hall
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Gena Turgel at Belfast city hall in January 2004. She was at the venue to give a speech at the UK’s main commemoration for National Holocaust Memorial Day. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA