Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:44 pm on 26th January 2023.
In a debate featuring successive powerful speeches, the one that we have just heard from Charlotte Nichols has to rank among the most powerful, and I congratulate her on it. I also congratulate the Holocaust Educational Trust, because it is a sign of its success that in these debates, held year after year, such enormously influential contributions are made by new generations of MPs such as the hon. Lady, who I believe has been in the House only since 2019. Clearly the process is working.
I have spoken in two of these debates previously. I find that, as I age, time seems to race along more and more quickly, so it was with surprise that I found that it was fully 10 years ago that I last told the story of two ordinary people caught up in the holocaust. I think I may be forgiven for telling it again, after this lapse of time; I have the permission of my researcher, Nina Karsov.
Some people may see Nina around the Estate, not particularly noticing anything about this petite lady that would ever make them think that, at the age of two, she was thrown by her parents from a train on its route to Treblinka in an attempt to save her life. Somehow the three of them leapt from the train. There was deep snow. Nina, a toddler, landed in it and was badly frostbitten. Her mother was killed instantly in leaping from the train, and it took her father some time to find her in the snow. They got back to Warsaw, and were taken in by separate gallant Polish non-Jewish families.
When the Nazis were closing in on the part of Warsaw where the father was in hiding, he, in order to protect those people who would have been killed if they had been caught with him in hiding, made his way across the square to the top of another building and threw himself off it so that he could not be forced to divulge where he had been kept. Nina, however, was kept safely through the war, and many years later, was able to secure for the lady she called her Polish mother recognition amongst “the righteous”, which was clearly an honour richly deserved. It has to be said that both her Polish mother and Nina herself were then persecuted by the communist regime, Nina spending two years of a three-year sentence in a communist jail before Amnesty International successfully campaigned for her to come to this country. So that is one ordinary person whom one might bump into on the Commons Estate without knowing much about her.
One person who cannot be bumped into on the Estate is my cousin Chana Broder, who now lives in Israel. Chana, her parents Abraham and Rachel, and her grandmother Rivka were holed up in a ghetto in Siemiatycze in November 1942 when they were tipped off that the ghetto was about to be cleared, so they made a run for it. The grandfather was killed, but the other four got away. They were turned away from one place after another, and eventually somebody gave them shelter for a little while, but the people who saved those four lives, as I told the House on a previous occasion, were the Kryński family.
The father was Konstanty, the mother was Bronisława and the children were Krystyna and Henryk. They were a poor farming family, and they had known my cousins before the war. My cousins had had a little convenience store in the main square of Siemiatycze, and I visited it a few years ago—it is now a flower shop. The Kryński parents went to the shop in the days before the war and, because they were very constrained economically, my cousins would sometimes say, “Mr and Mrs Kryński, take what you need for now and pay us when you can,” little imagining that, a few years later, those acts of simple kindness would be rewarded by an act of outstanding bravery.
The Kryńskis took them in for months. They hid them while their farm was occasionally searched by German troops, and they got away with it because they had constructed a bunker underneath a barn, in which the grandmother, the two young parents and my four-year-old cousin, Chana, were able to stay throughout the day. They could not stand up, so they would just sit and wait until they could come out at night.
This went on for months, until the Russians overran the area. The family were able to get out, and they were then taken in by Canada. The grandmother sadly passed away very soon after liberation, but the young parents and the little girl were able to go to Montreal, where my cousin graduated from McGill University. Both she and her mother subsequently moved to Israel, and she is still alive today.
Chana’s mother’s book, originally published in 1967 as “Out of the Depths” because of how the family had hidden underground, was republished in 2020 as part of the Azrieli Foundation’s holocaust survivors’ memoirs programme as “Daring to Hope.” For anyone who is interested in seeing how one ordinary family came through an extraordinary experience with the help of outstandingly brave people—the Kryński family were honoured with the presentation of the Righteous Among the Nations award in Siemiatycze on
I hope not to have to tell this story again for another 10 years, and I do not think I will, because this debate has been so well informed by so many MPs of older and younger generations that we are in no danger at all of forgetting what happened.