Righteous Gentiles for the JN July 2018
On March 29, 1946, her 16th birthday, Lily Pohlmann arrived in Britain on the first of three rescue transports, organised by the indomitable Rabbi Solomon Schonfeld, under the auspices of the Chief Rabbi.
On Thursday, Lily and members of her family joined nearly 100 people at Hoop Lane cemetery in Golders Green to celebrate the rescuers, including Rabbi Schonfeld and two remarkable people who helped Lily and her mother Cecilia Stern – a German civil servant, attached to the Nazi occupying forces in Lvov, Irmgard Wieth, and the other, a Ukrainian, the Greek-Catholic, Archbishop Andrey Count Sheptytsky.
John Curtis, of the Joint Burial Committee of West London Synagogue, had the idea several years ago of honouring the rescuers, or Righteous Gentiles, on a formerly blank wall at Hoop Lane cemetery.
A number of plaques are there already, including one in the name of Frank Foley, the British passport control officer in wartime Berlin who helped thousands of Jews by issuing visas to help them escape Nazi Germany.
Among those celebrated on Thursday, in addition to Rabbi Schonfeld, Irmgard Wieth, the Greek Catholic archbishop and his brother, were well-known names such as Sir Nicholas Winton, who helped organise eight trains — the original Kindertransporte — from Prague to London, saving nearly 700 Jewish children in the process.
At a short service led by Rabbi Julia Neuberger, Masorti’s Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, and the Spanish and Portuguese Rabbi Jeff Berger, the barrister Robert Rinder, who is the grandson of a Holocaust survivor, read two poems by the renowned Polish poet, Jerzy Ficowski.
At the Memorial Wall, the historian Robert Lacey walked the audience through the plaques and told some of their stories. The Polish and Israeli ambassadors were present, together with representatives from the Chinese community, as one of those honoured was the former Chinese consul-general in Vienna, Ho Feng Shan, whose issuing of visas is thought to have saved more than 3,000 Jews — and led to great personal sacrifice as he was fired by the Chinese authorities and sent home in disgrace, even losing his pension, in 1940.
Members of the families of both the rescued and the rescuers were present at the ceremony. An unexpected attender was the MP Zac Goldsmith, whose aunt, Lady Jane Rayne, is now married to the historian Robert Lacey. Mr Lacey said that the bravery and courage of the rescuers had saved thousands of Jewish lives, and it was fitting that tribute was paid to them. “They should never be forgotten,” he said.