Holocaust Memorial Day 2020: “Stand Together”

December 30, 201912:01 amLeave a Comment

Holocaust Memorial Day 2020 logoDon’t be content in your life just to do no wrong, be prepared every day to try and do some good” (Sir Nicholas Winton, who rescued 669 children from Nazi-occupied Europe)

Refugees in ‘a remote corner of Surrey’

Before and during the Second World War, the people of Surrey frequently demonstrated remarkable compassion and real team spirit in helping those less fortunate than themselves, in particular refugees escaping Nazi oppression. There were remarkable individuals (often themselves exiles) who dedicated their lives to helping fellow refugees: Alice Goldberger at Weir Courtney in Lingfield; Dr Hilde Lion at Stoatley Rough in Haslemere; and Bnei Akiva’s Edie and Shalom Marcovitch at Rowledge House Hostel, near Farnham. Collectively, refugee committees were set up by individual residents, churches and local organisations; in Banstead, Guildford and Reigate, the borough and district council mayors took the initiative.

Letter offering financial support (from the John (Hans) Goldmeier Collection, ref. 2014.101). Reproduced courtesy of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)

Letter offering financial support (from the John (Hans) Goldmeier Collection, ref. 2014.101). Reproduced courtesy of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum) SHC ref: Z/635/1

Dorking and Leatherhead Advertiser, 27 Jan 1939

Dorking and Leatherhead Advertiser, 27 Jan 1939 (click on the image to see a larger copy)

With Hitler’s annexation of the Sudetenland in October 1938, and the subsequent Nazi invasion of the rest of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, many Surrey refugee committees were formed originally to help Sudetens and ‘non Aryans’ who had escaped to Britain. These refugees were primarily Social Democrats, political opponents of the Nazis, some of whom (but not all) were Jewish.

In Dorking, a meeting was held at Holly House in November 1938 to consider local schemes for helping these Sudeten refugees, resulting in the formation of the Dorking and District Committee for Refugees from Central Europe. Houses were made available to accommodate the refugees; the principal hostel was at Burchett House, leased free to the Committee by its owner, the Duke of Newcastle. Other properties included Fairhaven at Holmbury St Mary; Somerset Hill, Holmbury St Mary (offered by the Hon Mrs Alfred Lyttleton) and Clarendon House (made available by Dorking Congregational Church).

In the same month, an appeal was made in The Spectator magazine to its readers for support for the Sudeten refugees resident in a ‘remote corner of Surrey’ on behalf of the Rev Philip Gray, rector of Albury:

These refugees are having their bare board and lodging paid by the Czech Refugee Committee in London, but they want waterproofs, gum boots (and other boots or shoes), German books, German- English dictionaries, pyjamas, and old suits (for rough work, since most of them came in their best clothes). I hope someone who reads this may be moved to supply some of this need.

A week later, The Spectator reported that ‘responses began raining in on the Rector who is receiving and administering gifts.’ It continued, ‘All will be needed, for in three guest-houses in the Albury-Guildford neighbourhood there are some eighty refugees … and another twenty are being installed this week a few miles away at Holmbury St Mary’.

One of these Sudeten refugees was Karl Löwit, born in Bohemia, secretary of a trade union and branch chairman of the Social Democratic party. His credentials and Jewish ancestry made it impossible for him to remain in Czechoslovakia and he joined an organised refugee transport to Britain in November 1938. His wife and children followed over the next few months; the family stayed initially at the Surrey Hills Guest House in Albury before moving to Guildford and later to Peaslake. Between January 1940 and January 1941, Mr Löwit kept a remarkable journal to practise his English, detailing his early life in Bohemia, his journey to Britain following Nazi occupation, his family, his life as a refugee in wartime Surrey, and the many local people who helped and befriended him. His granddaughter has transcribed the journal and the essays he wrote for his English classes, and a copy is held at Surrey History Centre (SHC ref Z/707/1).

As refugees from other areas of Nazi-occupied Europe came to Britain, the Dorking and District Committee for Refugees provided support for German, Austrian and East European Jews, including some of the children who arrived on the Kindertransport. One of these children was four-year old Erich Reich (now Sir Erich Reich, entrepreneur and chairman of the Association of Jewish Refugees’ Kindertransport group) who was fostered by a Sudeten refugee family in Dorking. As well as fundraising to provide homes and work for the refugees, Dorking and District Refugee Committee provided support to those who appealed against internment as so-called ‘enemy aliens’.

The Dorking and Leatherhead Advertiser, 10 Feb 1939, reported that ‘the refugees themselves under the full or partial care of the committee, now number over 40 adults and children, including Sudeten Germans, Jews and Non-Aryans from all parts of Germany.’ Supporters and members of the committee included Lionel Montefiore, Lord Ashcombe, E M Forster and Ralph Vaughan Williams (who served as committee chairman from 1945 to 1949). During the course of the war, the committee extended aid to evacuees and to London residents whose houses had been destroyed in the Blitz. Post-war, it continued to support refugees, including from Holland, until its closure in December 1949.

The records of Dorking Refugee Committee, 1938-1949 (ref R63), are held at Dorking Museum. Local newspapers are a valuable source of information, and back copies of Surrey titles including the Surrey Advertiser, Surrey Mirror and Woking News & Mail are held on microfilm at Surrey History Centre. The Dorking and Leatherhead Advertiser can be viewed on the British Library Newspaper Archive and FindMyPast websites, both of which are free to access at Surrey History Centre and Surrey Libraries.

The admission registers of Dorking Parochial Schools include details of refugee and evacuee pupils, 1939-1945 (SHC ref CES/121/4/-). Please note that access restrictions apply; contact us at [email protected] for further information.

Read Dorking Museum’s webpage about the Dorking Refugee Committee and the part they played when four-year-old Erich Reich arrived on the last Kindertransport to leave Poland, three days before the outbreak of war in August 1939. Ralph Vaughan Williams brought Erich to live in Burchett House, a refugee house in Dorking, before being fostered by a local family https://dorkingmuseum.org.uk/international-holocaust-memorial-day/.

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Written by ESP Admin

One thought on “Holocaust Memorial Day 2020: “Stand Together””

  1. June Taylor says:

    What in interesting and excellent piece. How lucky that there are the resources and skills to produce such a perfectly relevant web page. Thank you so much.

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