Kindertransport Commemoration - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:56 pm on 26th November 2018.

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Photo of Lord Polak Lord Polak Conservative 5:56 pm, 26th November 2018

My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for securing the debate and for all the work that he has done and continues to do. If I may say so, we are all glad that he is still here.

In preparation for my short contribution, I made one visit and one phone call. The visit was to Dr Hilda Cohen, a close friend of my wife’s family, who recently celebrated her 90th birthday. I visited her on Friday morning because as a 10 year-old girl she was sent on the Kindertransport to the UK. She brought Kristallnacht to life for me. She talked of the flames, the burning and the destruction of her own synagogue in Frankfurt on the night of Wednesday 9 November 1938. Just two days later, her father was taken away from the family Shabbat table. Incredibly, Hilda recalled that the discussion was more about whether or not her father should take a suitcase with him as it was forbidden to carry in the public domain on the Sabbath. He was held for a month but was then returned to the family—probably, she recalled, due to the fact that he had received an Iron Cross for his service in World War I. In July 1939 Hilda was taken by her parents to Frankfurt station. They were not a kissing and hugging family but Hilda recalled, some 80 years later, that there was kissing and hugging as she left with a small bag containing her prayer book, her Bible, some silver ladles and a few photos. That, of course, was the last day she saw her parents and brother. The story is all too familiar.

On 3 September 1939, Hilda, aged 11, found herself in Merthyr in south Wales, and she was looked after by a childless couple who showed her selfless kindness. Hilda went on to study medicine. She became a doctor and worked for many years in the blood transfusion unit. She became a Cardiff city councillor and a JP serving on the Bench in south Wales for more than 40 years. Serving the community and doing for others, Hilda has been an inspiration. She has three children and 16 grandchildren and is expecting her 10th great-grandchild imminently. Hilda’s story is about the selfless kindness of the host family and the generous decision of the Government of the day.

That sense of community led me to the phone call, which I made yesterday. I called the renowned playwright Diane Samuels, who was in my class in school in Liverpool. Diane wrote the play “Kindertransport”, which was first performed here in the UK in 1993. I recommend it to those noble Lords who may not have seen it. Diane cited three reasons for writing that play, which she published. The first was that she saw a friend, whose father had been on the Kindertransport, struggling with the concept of survival. The second was when she heard another friend being shocked to find out that his mother was in Auschwitz—he did not know this all his life. The third reason was the admission of another woman in her fifties, who had come on the Kindertransport, and had expressed a feeling of rage at her dead parents who had abandoned her, even though that abandonment had led to the saving of her life.

These are challenging issues but on the call yesterday, I reminded Diane that as young teenagers in Liverpool we and our friends were inspired by Stanley Morris of the Shifrin Foundation. This was an educational drama group that played a huge part in our upbringing and taught us a massive sense of community. Diane was a superstar then, as she is today.

For me, the 80th anniversary of the Kindertransport is a reminder of acts of kindness and bravery, a commitment to one’s fellows and a striving for a better world. It is the inspiring story of Hilda and the educational creativity of Diane that give me hope for a better future.