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Jan 2012 Journal

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Righteous Gentiles remembered

With another anniversary of the terrible events of Kristallnacht having just passed, it is appropriate that we remember, and honour, the many wonderful people who - in the short space of ten months before the start of the war - helped 10,000 children, and others, to escape to Britain. Our thanks are due also to the countless families who made the refugee children welcome, provided for them and arranged for their education.

My late brother Gerhard and I arrived at Victoria Station in London at 11 pm on Sunday 9 July 1939, an exhausting 36 hours after leaving the Westbahnhof in Vienna. We were met by the Reverend George Arthur Parry, a Baptist minister who was the General Secretary of the British Society for the Propagation of the Gospel among the Jews.

He drove us to his house, at 62 Carolina Road, Thornton Heath, Surrey, where we had our first taste of English food - cold sausages. It was well after midnight and we were starving, having survived on sandwiches and snacks since leaving Vienna.

The next morning at breakfast we were introduced to four other refugee boys, also looked after by ‘Uncle’, as the Reverend liked to be called. The choice of cereals, followed by egg and bacon, was a welcome surprise, especially as we were still hungry after our long journey.

The house was very crowded, with six boys in two bedrooms and Uncle occupying the third. He was unmarried and had no housekeeper so we were all allocated jobs in order to share the housework.

As far as the aim of the Society - the propagation of the Gospel among Jews - was concerned, no pressure was ever put on us to convert. We were expected to go to evening service on Sunday. I found the language in the sermon difficult to follow, but the singing was pleasant and some members of the congregation usually chatted to us at the end of the service.

Our parents, who had arranged to send us to England, would have been aware that we were going to be in a non-Jewish environment and had most sensibly and courageously decided to send us away, almost certainly saving our lives.

One week after we left Vienna, on our first Saturday in England, Uncle called us to the telephone, where our parents were waiting to speak to us. Bearing in mind that we had no telephone in Vienna, Uncle must have gone to a lot of trouble to arrange the call. It was primarily to assure our anxious parents that all was well with us. Mother, of course, wanted to know what we ate for breakfast, if we had enough to eat, what our accommodation was like, all about the other boys, and lots more. If Uncle was paying for the call, we felt obliged to keep the call short; if our parents were paying, we knew they couldn’t afford it. So sadly we kept it short, not realising it would be the last time we would ever speak to our parents.

The war started exactly seven weeks after our arrival, by which time we had moved to a larger property at 64 Chestnut Road, West Norwood, London SE27. Strange as it was, my brother Gerhard had already been relocated to another property of the Society, only two or three weeks after our arrival.

Gerhard had a nice room in a much larger house at 43 St John’s Villas, London N19, at the northern end of Holloway Road, near Archway. This property must have accommodated ten or more refugees, of both sexes, including two pensioners.

In charge at St John’s Villas was a Belgian lady, Mrs Edith Lambotte, ably assisted by her companion Daisy. They were a remarkable pair, treating all their charges with affection and love. They in turn were greatly loved and often referred to as ‘the two angels’.

In September all the boys in our house, apart from me, went to school. I was left at home with shopping lists and instructions on how to prepare some of the food for supper. I spent my spare time reading the Daily Telegraph and quickly improved my English.

In April 1940 the war began in earnest with the German occupation of Denmark and Norway, followed in May by the invasion of Belgium, Holland and France.

Gerhard had been enrolled at the Northern Polytechnic in Holloway Road, a ten-minute walk from where he lived, to study Radio Communication. In April I was given the opportunity to join the same course, which I readily accepted. It had the great bonus of seeing my big brother every day.

By May 1940 the internment of German-speaking ‘aliens’ was in full swing. This included any refugees over the age of 16 with German passports. Fortunately I was overlooked, but Gerhard was sent to Canada.

On 18 September 1940 our house was made uninhabitable by a land mine dropped by the Luftwaffe which exploded two streets away. Mercifully nobody in our house was injured.

The boys had to be relocated. I had the good fortune to sample the wonderful care and attention of Mrs Lambotte and Daisy. A few weeks later, after Uncle had moved into a really nice new house at 28 Arterberry Road, Raines Park, all the boys were reunited. The 15-mile journey from the new house to the Polytechnic was often difficult, due mainly to the damage done to the roads and transport system by the German bombs.

Gerhard had been released in early 1941 and returned to England to resume his studies. He received a great welcome from Mrs Lambotte at the house in St John’s Villas.

We both passed our Final Examination in May 1942 and were ready to look for employment. It is interesting to record how easy that was. I saw an advert in a trade paper, telephoned and requested an interview. They ascertained what qualifications I had and asked when I could start work. Encouraged, I mentioned that my brother had the same qualifications as I. They again only needed to know when he could start working for them!

As we now both had jobs, it was time for us to pay our own way. The Society found splendid accommodation for us with the Denham family at 34 Highbury Place, near Highbury and Islington Station. We had two rooms with full board. The wife cleaned and did the washing and ironing. Her husband worked at the local baker, bringing home bread and cakes, a welcome bonus as food was strictly rationed. To make sure we could manage, the Society generously paid the first week’s rent for us, £ 1 10s each!

We had been kept, cared for and educated for two years ten months by the Society and their many wonderful helpers and officials.

Sadly, Uncle died a few years later of cancer. I visited him in hospital and was shocked to see how ill he was.

In conclusion, if anyone who reads the above tribute was also helped by the Society - or maybe their relatives were - could they possibly contact me via the Journal or at the email address below? Perhaps we could arrange some suitable commemoration to ensure these wonderful people are remembered.

Bruno Muller

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