Jul 2005 Journal

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Kindertransport MBE for Bertha Leverton

Bertha Leverton, founder of the reunion of Kindertransport, has been awarded the MBE for services to the Jewish people. She has also been honoured by Germany's prestigious Foundation for Democracy and Tolerance for her many tours to address students and teachers on her childhood experiences. Germany's Interior Minister Otto Schilly presented her with the Foundation for Democracy and Tolerance award in Berlin. She was awarded the Order of Merit of the Republic of Germany in 1993.

Born Berta Engelhard in Munich in 19323, the eldest of three children, Bertha enjoyed a happy childhood imbued with Jewish religious tradition. With Hitler's accession to power, it became commonplace for mobs to attack the children as they went to and from their Jewish school. Following Kristallnacht, her father determined that Berta, her brother Theo and her sister Inge should join the Kindertransport to England. They arrived at Dovercourt camp near Harwich in a bitterly cold winter and she was sent to a childless couple in Coventry who treated her as an unpaid maid. Thankfully, her parents escaped and were reunited with their children in England in 1944. Berta married in 1944 and had three children.

In 1988 Bertha consulted the archives of the Jewish Chronicle to find out about her own history and resolved to organise a reunion of Kindertransportees, reaching many by speaking on the BBC's Woman's Hour. More than 1,000 delegates attended. Conferences took place also in Jerusalem in 1994 and London in 1999, when a commemorative plaque was unveiled in the House of Commons by Speaker Betty Boothroyd. The movement was welcomed into the AJR, whose support has ensured its active continuation.

Bertha continues to play a leading role, keeping in touch with members by telephone and editing the Kindertransport Newsletter. In recent years she has compiled and co-edited I Came Alone, a compendium of Kindertransport children's stories, supported a teaching pack for schools, inspired and appeared in the Oscar-award-winning film Into the Arms of Strangers, organised a belated Barmitzvah ceremony for the Kinder, and responded to Chief Rabbi Sacks and Home Secretary David Blunkett at the unveiling of the Kindertransport statue organised by World Jewish Relief at Liverpool Street Station in London.

On the day the Queen's birthday honours were announced, Berth received a card of congratulations from Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. 'It is a great honour which is meant not only for me', Bertha said, 'but will be shared by all the Kinder worldwide who were saved by Britain.'
Ronald Channing

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