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My family’s Story Of Survival In Honour Of Yom Hashoah, Jewish Holocaust Memorial Day

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This is a story of survival against the odds.

About the worst evil that mankind can inflict on one another, but coming out of it with hope and dignity.

This April 11 is Jewish Holocaust Memorial Day – Yom Hashoah in Hebrew.

Alongside National Holocaust Memorial Day, it’s the time when Jewish people around the world remember those millions of men, women and children who died in the Nazi Holocaust.

Jews, as well as others, were persecuted by Adolf Hitler and his regime, many being put into ghettos, losing all their rights to work and live as German citizens under the Nuremberg laws and eventually leading to their planned extermination by the Nazis in concentration and death camps across Eastern Europe.

The Holocaust was a calculated and evil act of genocide against the Jewish people and other minorities including gypsies.

Indeed, in my own family, I lost relatives on both the maternal and paternal side in different countries.

My maternal grandfather Harry (Hermann) lost his Polish aunts, uncles and cousins in the camps.

They were taken first to Thereisenstadt camp in Nazi-occupied Prague, Czech Republic.

This was a model camp used by the Nazis to hoodwink the Red Cross into thinking It was merely a resettled Jewish town.

They were later taken and sent to their deaths in the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.

Very few of his relatives survived and some were children, their young lives ended horribly.

We will always remember those who did not make it out alive.

As Jews, we light candles and say memorial prayers in memory and hope that by telling their stories we can educate about intolerance and genocide, in the hope that we can prevent it from ever happening again.

When Hitler and the Nazis came to power in 1933, my great grandparents Sabina Lorber and Shimon Goldstein and Grandpa Harry, aged seven, were living in Stralsund, Germany – a small coastal town.

They had moved there from Berlin.

Sabina and Shimon were Polish Jews, who through various circumstances had found themselves in Berlin during the 1920s, where they met and fell in love.

Certainly, at this time, there was no hint of what was to come with the Nazi regime.

Image caption: Grandpa Harry in the UK, later in life Image courtesy: Eleanor Segall

In Stralsund, they owned a millinery shop and my great grandfather made men’s hats, with Sabina helping him in the shop.

The Nazis however stepped up their attacks on Jewish businesses, and billeted a Nazi soldier outside the shop to stop locals from entering.

The business folded, anti-Semitism was increasing and this put an immense strain on Sabina and Shimon and their young son.

Sabina and Shimon were unhappy together and as such, after several years together, they decided to end their marriage.

This meant that Great Grandma Sabina was a young Jewish single mother, having to take care of herself and her son Harry.

She had lived in Berlin during the 1920s and had friends there, so decided to move back to Berlin with her son to pursue work opportunities and to try and find ways to escape from Nazi Germany.

It was immensely painful and difficult for Sabina and she suffered from depression during this time.

However, she was a strong, independent and willful lady and managed to recover and find work as a felling hand in a clothes factory.

My Grandpa remembers being helped by the kindness of strangers who gave him food when times were desperate.

It was now about 1937-8 and the situation was looking bleak for the Jews in Germany.

By going back to Berlin, Sabina and her young son were at the heart of Nazism and they desperately needed to get out.

Grandpa remembers the 1936 Olympics and seeing Hitler on a screen outside the stadium.

He was already learning in a segregated Jewish school in the Berlin synagogue and having to leave school early, so as not to incur the wrath of local anti-Semites who wanted to harm the Jewish children.

To make things worse, Sabina would have to try to escape seemingly alone.

She applied for visas to countries that were sympathetic to Jews, including countries such as China.

Shanghai was where Shimon ended up and he survived the war that way and made his way to Israel.

At the time, countries were closing their doors to Jews and had quotas to count their numbers.

When writing this article, my Grandpa Harry asked me to do one thing. He said, ‘Eleanor, make sure to mention Major Frank Foley, he saved my life’.

At the time, Major Frank Foley, was working for MI6 in the Berlin passport office.

He was undercover and the Nazis knew him as a diplomat working under their regime.

What they didn’t know was that Major Foley, a deeply religious man with a sense of moral duty, was risking his own life to save Jews that came to him seeking visas to escape.

He often issued them papers that would save their family’s lives and is recognised in Israel by Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum.

Sabina stood in line at the Berlin Passport Office, waiting all day in long queues. She wanted to get to England, where she had a cousin already living and a sponsor, a Jewish doctor.

She knew that time was up for Jews in Germany but she desperately needed some hope.

Sabina would have pleaded her case to the office and possibly to Major Foley himself.

He managed to grant her a work visa for herself and a less-common visa ‘for mother and child’ – a work permit for her to come to England with her young son Harry.

Foley realised the terrible situation that Sabina was in as a single mother with no relatives to help her escape and his act of kindness and benevolence saved my family from death.

In 1939, Sabina and Harry made their way, with their visas and possessions, to one of the last boats out of Germany.

Sabina had stuffed her special gold necklace with Hebrew lettering into her shoe, knowing at all times that she could have had it stolen by the Nazis and indeed some jewellery was.

My Mum, her granddaughter, wears this important necklace every day.

They arrived in England in spring 1939 and settled first in Cricklewood where they were helped by the local Jewish community.

Sabina later remarried and never forgot the horrors she had lived through but was a loving and kind grandmother.

My Grandpa Harry had his barmitzvah here and became a British citizen, learning English and serving in the British Armed forces during the Second World War.

He became an ambulance driver in Cyprus in 1945, where miraculously at a hospital in Nicosia, he met his cousin Bertha Lorber, who had survived Auschwitz and made her way to Cyprus to work as a nurse.

They hugged and cried as she showed him the tattoo on her arm. She was free and he celebrated and cried over all the losses of their relatives.

It was a miracle they had met again.

So many died, but there was also so much to live for.

Grandpa went on to marry Doreen Tucker, my grandmother, a British Jew, and they have been married for over 60 years.

They had two daughters, including my mother, and have five grandchildren.

We are indebted to Major Foley for saving our family, and to the UK for the shelter and hope they have given to our family.

My Grandpa is now 92 and we hope by sharing his story it will help educate others on the Holocaust.

Courtesy: metro.co.uk

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