Children of the Holocaust: Event to mark the 300 Jewish refugees who found a safe haven in Windermere in 1945

The Westmorland Gazette: 300 children came to Windermere in 1945 going from 'Hell to Paradise' 300 children came to Windermere in 1945 going from 'Hell to Paradise'

SOUTH Lakeland will be marking Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) for the first time by remembering the 300 child survivors who came to Windermere in 1945.

The event, called ‘Journey from Hell to Paradise’, will include an exhibition and film about their journey to the Lakes.

The film shows Jewish refugees waiting for the aeroplanes that brought them to Carlisle, where they would then journey on to the Lake District.

Before embarking on new lives, the children spent a period of recuperation in Windermere, with some describing it as ‘Paradise’.

Director of the Lake District Holocaust Project Trevor Avery said: “The former housing scheme of Calgarth Estate was home to the first Jewish child survivors to arrive from Eastern Europe after the war.

“An estimated 1.4million Jewish children had been murdered in the Holocaust, and these 300 were some of the very few who did survive.”

During the event, Mr Avery will read out a letter from Ben Helfgott, one of the children who came to Windermere and is now Honorary President of the HMD Trust.

Mr Helfgott was born in Poland in 1930. In 1939 German troops entered his town and established the first Jewish ghetto in the country.

He was deported to Buchenwald in 1944 and put to work in Schlieden concentration camp. In April 1945, he was then deported to Theresienstadt, Czechoslovakia, which was liberated on May 9.

Mr Helfgott described his time in Windermere as ‘the most wonderful four months you can imagine’.

“We had just been liberated from a concentration camp where the conditions were so terrible many people had to be taken to hospital after-wards.

“When we came to England it was the first time in years that we had slept in a proper bed by ourselves, with fresh sheets, and it was unbelievable.

“We hadn’t had that kind of freedom before. We played football and table tennis, we went on trips and it was really something very special.

“Anyone passing by would never think we had been in a concentration camp, because we had recovered physically, but during our stay we were also slowly recovering mentally.

“Most of us had lost our parents and we worried bec-ause didn’t know what the future was going to be.”

On the significance of HMD, Mr Helfgott said: “We should learn what happened during the Holocaust, and why it happened, so it never happens again.

“The lesson we have to learn is that nobody’s life is safe under a dictatorship.

“We must always make sure that we live in a democratic country where people’s rights are assured.”

As well as the exhibition at Kendal Town Hall on January 23, a short ceremony will be held at noon at the Birdcage, Finkle Street.

There will be a message from South Lakeland District Council Chairman Coun Evelyn Westwood, who organised the occasion alongside the Lake District Holocaust Project.

The Birdcage will be adorned with luggage tags for school- children and members of the public to write messages.

Some relatives of the child-ren will also be attending, including Sue Bermange, whose father Bob Obuchowski was one of ‘the Boys’, as they became known.

Sue, who is also on the Holocaust Education Trust board, said: “One of his most vivid memories is having bread and marmalade on that first morning – and he’s had toast and marmalade every morn-ing since.

“He says that they were all quite wild and the Lake District brought them back to life again.”

Holocaust Memorial Day takes place on January 27.

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