10 March 2010

A medal better late than never

Yesterday the Prime Minister presented medals to two men who saved Jews and other persecuted groups escape the Nazis during WWII

The Hero of the Holocaust medal, a silver medallion, inscribed with the words "In the Service of Humanity", was awarded to Sir Nicholas Winton, 100, and to Denis Avey, 91.

Denis Avey, 91, from Bradwell in Derbyshire, exchanged places with a Jewish inmate at Auschwitz to gather information about conditions and helped an inmate survive by sharing supplies. He told the BBC: "I've always poked my nose in… I've always done something, it gets you into a lot of trouble, but by Jove you sleep at nights, I tell you."

The Medal was awarded to 26 other persons posthumously.

During the ceremony at Downing Street, the prime minister paid tribute to the "selfless humanity" displayed by the recipients. Mr Brown said: "It was the extraordinary acts of ordinary people that sustained those suffering the greatest evil our generation has known. Those individual acts of bravery - undertaken knowing that, if discovered, the highest price would be paid - are not dimmed by the passing of the years”

This award is one of those that could have been awarded years ago but it wasn’t. The current government has redressed this and the snide comments from people on a number of newspapers, (especially the mouth breathers who comment on the Mail website) are utterly unjustified.

The Telegraph provides a full list of all of those honoured:

Denis Avey was imprisoned in the Auschwitz prisoner of war camp. He arranged to swap one night at a time with Jewish inmates from the nearby concentration camp. Exchanging his uniform for the filthy, striped garments of the Jewish prisoners, he took the opportunity to gather facts about the horrific conditions inside the camp while the other man had a chance to eat and rest well in the relative comfort of the military prison. The 91-year-old is currently under consideration for recognition by Yad Vashem – the Israeli Holocaust remembrance authority – as a Righteous Among the Nations.

Sir Nicholas Winton organised the rescue of 669 mostly Jewish children from German-occupied Czechoslovakia on the eve of the Second World War in an operation that later became known as the Czech Kindertransport.

Sister Agnes Walsh, a Catholic nun from Hull, moved to France before the outbreak of war and became second in command at the St Vincent de Paul Convent in Cadouin, Dordogne. In December 1943, during manhunts for Jews in the area, a refugee named Pierre Cremieux begged her to shelter his wife, seven-year-old son and two four-month-old twins. Sister Agnes pleaded with her superior, Sister Granier, to offer them refuge, and her request was accepted. The nuns hid and cared for the family under the auspices of Sister Agnes until the liberation of France in 1945. The testimony of the led to her recognition in 1990 as a Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem. She died three years later in Mill Hill, London at the age of 93.

Albert Bedane was a physiotherapist from Jersey, who hid escaped French prisoners of war, Russian slave labourers and a Dutch Jewish woman in his cellar while he treated invading Nazi soldiers in his clinic above. He died at the age of 87 in 1980 and was posthumously recognised as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem in 2000.

Ida and Louise Cook were two opera-loving sisters who smuggled British visas to Jews while attending recitals in Europe before the war, securing the escape of 29 refugees from Nazi Germany. Their efforts were funded by proceeds from Ida's career as a prolific writer of romance novels. In all, she penned 125 books for Mills & Boon and was president of the Romantic Novelist's Association for many years. The sisters were named Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem in 1965. Ida died in 1986 at the age of 82 and Mary died in 1991 at the age of 90.

Sergeant Charles Coward - As a prisoner of war in the Auschwitz labour camp, Sergeant Coward was appointed Red Cross Liaison for his 1400 fellow British prisoners. He used his position to smuggle foods and contraband to Jewish inmates and covertly visited and stayed overnight in the nearby concentration camp for Jews in order to confirm the horrific conditions there. Sergeant Coward was named Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem and had a tree planted in his honour in the Avenue of Righteous Gentiles in Israel in 1963.

Major Frank Foley while working as a passport control officer for the British embassy in Berlin, he helped up to 10,000 Jews escape Germany after Kristallnacht and before the outbreak of the Second World War by issuing fake visas at great personal risk. The role in the passports office was in fact a cover for Major Foley's true occupation as a spy. As head of the M16 station in Berlin. But he is primarily remembered as a "British Schindler" for risking his own life to rescue thousands of Jewish families by issuing fake documents in the run-up to the outbreak of war. He died at the age of 74 in 1958 and was recognised as Righteous Among the Nations by Israel's Yad Vashem in 1999.

Jane Haining spent years working as a school matron in a Jewish orphanage in Budapest; Miss Haining was holidaying in Cornwall when the Second World War was declared. She immediately returned to Budapest to help protect the 400 girls under her care and refused an official order to leave the country in 1940. The Church of Scotland Missionary from Dunscore again refused to leave following the Nazi invasion of Hungary in 1944. She was arrested by the Gestapo and taken to Auschwitz where she died in July the same year at the age of 47. She is recognised as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem and is commemorated by a number of monuments in her home town of Dunscore.

June Ravenhall was a British housewife who moved to Holland before the war; June Ravenhall risked her life by hiding a Jewish child, Louise Velleman, in her home during the Nazi occupation. She was recognised as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem in 2007.
Sofka Skipwith was a Russian aristocrat who grew up in Britain smuggled Red Cross parcels to Jewish prisoners at an Internment camp in Vittel, France, where she was incarcerated during the War. She also saved a newborn Jewish baby from execution by sedating it, putting it in a red cut box and passing it through a gap in the perimeter fence to members of the French Resistance in the middle of the night. Mrs Skipworth, who lived her last days in Cornwall, was recognised as Righteous Among the Nations by Israel's Yad Vashem in 1998.

Princess Alice of Greece was the mother of the Duke of Edinburgh who married into the Greek royal family organised shelters for orphans and hid three Jewish women in the palace during the occupation of Greece. She personally ensured the refugees had everything they needed and visited them regularly between 1943 and October 1945. In 1967, after the fall of King Constantine of Greece, she was invited to live with the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh at Buckingham Palace, where she died two years later. She was recognised as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem in 1994.

Bertha Bracey a Quaker from Birmingham who lobbied tirelessly about the plight of the Jews in Germany was instrumental in setting up the Kindertransport which brought 10,000 children to England. She also arranged for 300 orphans found alive in the Theresienstadt concentration camp in Czechoslovakia to be flown to a reception camp by Lake Windermere just before the end of the war in 1945. She received the OBE for her work for refugees in 1942, and was later recognised as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem.

Louisa Gould, Ivy Forester and Harold le Druillenec The two sisters from Jersey sheltered two Russian prisoners of war while their brother taught them English. All three were arrested after being betrayed by a neighbour and Mrs Gould was executed at the notorious Ravensbrueck women's concentration camp in northern Germany in 1945.
Mrs Forster survived after escaping deportation because a doctor at the Jersey General Hospital forged papers saying she was not well enough to leave the country, and Mr le Druillenec was the last surviving British citizen at Belsen.

Henk Huffener As a Dutch citizen during the war, Henk Heffner smuggled Jews out of Holland to Switzerland and Spain. He moved to England in 1950 and lived in Guildford after taking British citizenship.

Stan Wells, Alan Edwards, George Hammond, Roger Letchford, Tommy Noble, John Buckley, Bill Scruton, Bert Hambling, Bill Keeble and Willy Fisher as British prisoners of war they jointly saved the life of Hannah Sarah Rigler, a 15-year-old Jewish girl who escaped outside Danzig from the death march in which her mother and sister later perished.
Miss Rigler, who is still alive and lives in New York, slipped away from the line unnoticed and ran to a barn where she was discovered by the group of British prisoners who were performing farm labour in the area. They wrapped her in an old army coat, hid her in a hay loft and took it in turns to bring her food, bathe her and nurse her back to help.

The prisoners arranged for the teenager to be cared for by local women on the eve of their evacuation into Germany. They were recognised by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the
Nations in 1988.

Brave men and women all. End of story


nursemyra said...

what an uplifting post - such brave people

jams o donnell said...

THanks. These people were truly brave.

Claude said...

Magnificent post, Jams. We need to hear about courageous people fighting evil.

jams o donnell said...

THanks Claudia. Most of these people deserve to have their stories better told

susan said...

What truly wonderful and ennobling stories. Thank you for posting this.

jams o donnell said...

Glad to post it Susan!

Anonymous said...

All these people are just the bees knees !!!

jams o donnell said...

They certainly are!

Sean Jeating said...

They can't see it, still: I am bowing with respect.

Thanks for sharing, Jams.

James Higham said...

One wonders if it is better later than never because it is quite pointed that it is so late. Probably better.

jams o donnell said...

THey are amazing people Sean

Agreed James. These people could have been better homoured a long time ago/

Attlee, Churchill, Eden, MacMillan. Dougles Hone, Wilson, Heath Callaghan, THatcher, Major and Blair could ahve.. but they didn't