Susan Bookbinder: The Most Challenging Story I've Ever Covered
LEARN, LEARN, LEARN - By LBC 97.3's Susan Bookbinder
"Learn, Learn, Learn - they can take everything from you except what's in your brain". A mother's last words to her teenage daughter at Leipzig Central Station in August 1939.
Feige Mendzigursky wore a name tag stamped with swastikas around her neck - the pass was virtually all she had - but it was to save her life.
The pretty 14 year old was boarding the last Kindertransport train out of Nazi Germany. Forced to say good bye to her mother and younger sister, not knowing if she would ever see them and her grandfather again, or what would become of them.
Feige was one of about 10,000 Jewish children under 17 allowed unaccompanied into Britain to start a new life in the homes of relatives.
On Sunday 23rd June some of the surviving Kinder met in London from all over the world to join Prince Charles at St James' Palace to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the unprecedented Kindertransport.
One of them, Eric Newman, who was also 14 described how he waved goodbye to his mother in Austria.
"I remember her crying and waving a handkerchief. I don't think I ever cried for her, I was just on my way, I just thought it was an adventure and I didn?t know what the future would be."
Erika Judge who was just 13 when she left alone from Vienna, explained why parents had to hold back the tears:
"There were Blackshirts standing at the back of the platform. All the parents saying goodbye were mostly women, because, like my father who was already in the camp and they were told to wave and smile, so in fact nobody cried."
Erika described how the Nazis rifled through the children’s suitcases as they made the journey through Europe.
"All the suitcases were taken down... The station was full of Nazis.. some parents, thinking they would never see their children again had tried to hide bits of jewelry in coat linings or in shoes. Some of the children were found with it and taken off the train. What happened to them, no one ever knows."
Thomas Bonin's mother, Helge Dresner was on the same journey as Feige and her brother Rolf Dresner is represented by his daughter Barbara Dresner.
They told me how the rest of their family were taken to the death camps and murdered.
Albert Waxman came from Saarbruken and described the horror of the Germany he left behind:
"Jews in Germany could work or go to school, invariably it was 'Dogs and Jews not allowed'."
Mr Waxman was sent to a hostel in Bradford. He was the only Kind from there to be reunited with his parents.
"We were 24 boys in the hostel, I was the only one who found my parents again after the war, who had survived under a false name"
Judy Benton, who is 92 told me how they took away her father?s factory in Eastern Germany and "children at school were not talking to me anymore".
She described how the Nazi anti-semitic propaganda was constant and virulent by the time she took the last KinderTransport out of Meissen.
The British government had originally refused to get involved in the plight of Europe's Jews, but on 9th November 1938 everything changed with one word... Kristallnacht - or the night of the broken glass: a series of co-ordinated attacks against Jews throughout Germany and Austria.
The attacks left the streets covered in broken glass from the smashed windows of Jewish shops, homes and synagogues. At least 91 Jews were killed - 30 thousand were arrested and incarcerated in concentration camps.
Feige's father Peisech Mendzigursky was taken to the notorious Buchenwald where he was beaten and eventually released.
News of the atrocities of Kristallnacht spread across Europe and the British government was pressured to undertake a Parliamentary debate which led to the launch of the Kindertransport.
The debate was re-enacted yesterday at the Jewish Free School in Kenton and among the speakers was David Milliband, the former Foreign Secretary whose parents were Jewish refugees.
David said it is crucial that we never forget:
"The whole country has a sense of reflection and recognition of what the KinderTransport means both to the Jewish community and to Britain's tradition of providing a home for people.
"I also am here because of that very personal link."
David's family's story is similar to that of Feige Mendzigursky - the family she left behind, her mother, grandfather and three year old sister were taken by the Nazis, deported and murdered.
Other close relatives were also deported and murdered, including one to Buchenwald.
Children left Germany with one small suitcase and wearing an exit visa on a piece of string around their necks, bearing their names and pictures.
The first thing that strikes you when you see Feige's pretty little face staring out of the picture, is the swastikas stamped all around it.
On the other side, the word 'Sara' next to her name. The Nazis added the middle name to all Jewish females, regardless of age, from 1938 as a means of discrimination. Males were given the middle name 'Israel'.
Feige was born in Germany but from that day was listed as 'Staatlos' or 'stateless'. Everything was taken from her, including her nationality.
Feige, her 13 year old sister Margo and father Peisech - who had incredibly escaped death in Buchenwald, were given the exit visas to leave Germany to live with cousins in Manchester.
Three sisters came to meet them at Liverpool Street Station on August 11th 1939, but Peisech, who arrived three weeks later, was immediately interned as an alien Jew in what was known as Kitchener camp in Kent.
Feige and her younger sister Margo were taken by their cousins to their homes in Manchester, not knowing if they would ever be reunited with their mother, little sister and grandfather again.
The two teenage sisters were welcomed into a loving Jewish family in Manchester and both later married and had children.
They were reunited with their father Peisech who miraculously arrived one day before Britain was at war with Germany, and became part of the family, working as a machinist and acting Rabbi in Manchester.
His wife, Frieda, and youngest daughter Etti Lea were deported in cattle trucks to Riga and it is understood, that they probably froze to death on the journey.
Feige, now known as Fay Shaw, is almost 89 and lives in Otley in Yorkshire where she is looked after by her grandsons from her daughter Jacky Lawson, surrounded by photos and memories.
Her daughter Judith has described to me, the life of tragedy, hardship and guilt she has led and how the faraway look represents the Holocaust survivor guilt that blights so many. She is too frail to attend the Kinder events these days. So, as her great cousin, Judith asked me to represent Fay.
I have been a journalist and broadcaster all my life and have reported on many momentous and historic events, including IRA bombs, Mandela, Thatcher, Clinton, Princess Diana, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and I've seen a few governments come and go. But this was one of the most challenging stories on which I have reported and one of the most emotional days of my life.
The responsibility and honour of representing Fay is huge, exacerbated by the great privilege I have in being able to report on the suffering and survival of my family and millions like Fay - so that history does not forget.
So why then was I given this great honour?
Fay is my great cousin and her cousins, the three sisters who met her and her sister Margo at Liverpool Street station in August 1939, taking them into their homes in Manchester were my Great Aunts, Sarah, Blima and Yetta Bookbinder.
They had already taken in five more Mendzigursky siblings who had arrived on the Kindertransport two months previously with their father.
Being amongst the Kind at the Jewish Free School today and hearing their stories has been a great privilege and honour. All the survivors I spoke to were in their late 80?s and early 90?s and were incredibly lucid, vibrant and so dignified. Everyone was looking forward rather than indulging in self pity.
I will leave you with the last words said to my cousin by the mother who had to let her go knowing she, her father and younger daughter would almost certainly die.
"Learn, learn, learn, they can take everything from you, except what is in your brain".