A sanctuary for child survivors of the Holocaust
Weir Courtney was built as a family residence, probably in the 1880s, but also has a history as a place of sanctuary. From 1898 to 1901 it served as temporary accommodation for destitute and elderly clergymen, whilst Canon William Henry Cooper’s Homes of St Barnabas were being built nearby. In 1945, it provided a countryside refuge for a group of young Holocaust survivors.
At the end of the war, the Committee for the Care of Children from Concentration Camps persuaded the British government to accept 1,000 displaced children from Europe although, in the event, a total of only 732 came to Britain. In August 1945, a group of 300 child survivors from Theresienstadt (Terezin) concentration camp were airlifted in 10 Lancaster bombers from Prague to Crosby-on-Eden Airfield in Cumbria. The children had originally been scheduled to arrive in May 1945 but this was delayed as many were too weak to travel. On arrival, they were housed at the temporary reception hostel, Colgarth, in Windermere. Unsurprisingly, many of the children were malnourished, traumatised and susceptible to disease.
In October 1945, the six youngest children (aged 3 to 4) were taken to Bulldog’s Bank in West Hoathly, Sussex, made available by Rebekah Clarke, wife of East Grinstead MP Ralph Clarke. Two months later, nine of the younger children from the airlift were taken to Weir Courtney in Lingfield, the country home of Sir Benjamin and Lady Drage, who had offered the house until more permanent accommodation could be found. With financial support from the West London Synagogue, the children were looked after by director Alice Goldberger who had been involved in the reception of the 300 children in Cumbria. At Weir Courtney, Alice worked with a close-knit team including Martha ‘Manna’ Weindling, Gertrude Dann, and Sophie Wutsch. In her first report to sponsors in April 1946, she reported that the children at the ‘Lingfield Colony’ had started at the village school a few weeks after their arrival. Records of Jewish children from Weir Courtney appear later in the 1947 Dormansland school registers held at Surrey History Centre (SHC ref 8666/1).
Early in 1946, six older girls from a recently closed Manchester refugee hostel came to Weir Courtney to help with the younger children. They were followed by two further groups of children, aged between 5 and 9 years, who had survived Auschwitz or had been in hiding, and were of German, Czech, Hungarian and Italian origin. In a report of April 1946 to sponsors, Goldberger wrote about the children, “Striking is the friendliness and love towards each other – the children are not bitter, as one would expect, but care for and protect everybody and are most thankful for any love and attention given to them.” A month later, “The close contact between older and younger children gives them some feeling of family life and home which they have lost.”
Some of the children at Weir Courtney were eventually reunited with their families. Italian sisters Liliana (Tatiana) and Andra Bucci (who had survived Auschwitz) discovered that their mother was still alive and travelled to Rome to meet her in December 1946. Their father who had been in the Italian Army and a prisoner of war also survived. Other children were adopted or fostered by families in Britain and the United States. Later, some of the young people emigrated to Israel.
After three years at Weir Courtney, it was recommended that the children would benefit from living in a more urban environment. In December 1948, the ‘Lingfield Colony’ relocated to Isleworth, Middlesex, where the home at 42 The Grove was renamed ‘Lingfield House’ to mark the link with the village. As the number of residents decreased, a decision was made to close Lingfield House in 1957.
Alice Goldberger (1897-1986) came to England in 1939 from Berlin where she had run a centre for underprivileged children. On the outbreak of war, she was interned as an ‘enemy alien’ on the Isle of Man where she made use of her skills. The Liverpool Evening Express, 10 September 1940, reported that “a golf house has been converted into a kindergarten in the south of the island, and a Jewish refugee, Miss Alice Goldberger, has been placed in charge, with the assistance of several young women internees.”
Alice’s release from internment was organised by child psychologist Anna Freud who employed her as a superintendent of one of the Hampstead War Nurseries near Chelmsford, Essex, for evacuated city children. At the end of the war, Alice, whose own family had perished in concentration camps, and her colleague Oscar Friedmann were tasked with setting up a team to receive the anticipated 1,000 young Holocaust survivors. She was then appointed head of the ‘Lingfield Colony’ at Weir Courtney.
On the closure of Lingfield House in 1957, Alice became a child therapist in the Hampstead Child Therapy Clinic. In October 1978, she was the guest of honour on Thames Television’s ‘This Is Your Life’ where she was reunited with some of the children she had helped. In her obituary, the Jewish Chronicle, 11 April 1986, reported that Miss Goldberger’s life had been totally dedicated to life-serving activities: “She became parent, teacher, play leader and best friend to all of them and, to the end of her life, she stayed in touch with them, worried about them and, above all, continued to love and cherish them.”
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC holds the papers of Alice Goldberger, 1945-1990 (ref 2007.423), which were donated by one of Alice’s ‘children’, Judith Singer Sherman, in 2002. The collection includes progress reports sent to foster parents, drawings and poems by the children, and photograph albums. The museum has kindly presented Surrey History Centre with digital copies of the records (SHC ref Z/634).
Sir Benjamin Drage
Benjamin Drage (c.1878-1952) was born Benjamin Cohen, and changed his name by Deed Poll to Drage in 1912. He married Phoebe Etta Nathan in the same year. He established a furniture store in Oxford Street, London, and was known as ‘Mr Drage’ through his firm’s ‘Mr and Mrs Everyman’ publicity. Drage was also a founding member of the Golders Green Synagogue, serving as its presiding warden from 1915 to 1924, and was a member of the Council of the West London Synagogue. He supported many charitable causes, and was knighted in 1932 for services in connection with the Imperial Institute in London and the Empire Marketing Fund. In 1930, Drage purchased Weir Courtney as a weekend and holiday home. On the outbreak of war, the house was home to several evacuees and between 1942 and 1943 it was also used as a war nursery.
Sir Benjamin Drage was a frequent correspondent to The Times. On 4 July 1939, the newspaper published his letter ‘Refugee Children’ proposing an amendment of the 1926 Adoption of Children Act which prevented young refugees from obtaining British nationality. He wrote: “We owe much in the past to the admission of refugees in this country. The children we are educating at present are the pick of Germany and Austria. Cannot we make use of these brilliant youngsters who are full of gratitude to the country that has saved them?” He argued that “these children may become full British citizens would be a blessing to them and a great advantage to England.”
At the end of the Second World War, Sir Benjamin and his wife leased Weir Courtney rent-free to the Central British Fund for Jewish Relief and Rehabilitation (CBF) for the use of the young Holocaust survivors. The house was sold to the Sheraton family in 1949. Sir Benjamin Drage was cremated, and his remains buried, at West London Synagogue, Hoop Lane Cemetery on 17 Nov 1952. His obituary in the Jewish Chronicle, 21 November 1952, described him as a “magnificent supporter of a variety of causes”.
Sources at Surrey History Centre
Alice Goldberger of Berlin, 1897-1986: material relating to Weir Courtney, Lingfield, and Lingfield House, Isleworth (1945-1990) (SHC ref Z/634)
Dormansland Council Junior, Mixed and Infants School, admission register. Includes Jewish children from concentration camps staying at Weir Courtney Hostel, Lingfield, 1947 (SHC ref 8666/1)
Weir Courtney, Lingfield, copy photographs, 1946-1949 (SHC ref Z/448)
Janet Bateson, ‘The Jewish children, survivors of the Holocaust’ chapter in Around Lingfield at War (2010)
Martin Gilbert, The Boys: triumph over adversity (1996)
Sarah Moskovitz, Love despite hate: child survivors of the Holocaust and their adult lives (1983)
William D Rubenstein and others (ed), The Palgrave Dictionary of Anglo-Jewish History (2011)
USHMM Curators’ Corner: Alice Goldberger and the children of Weir Courtney (The Judith Sherman Collection) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oTStHMjlkZs
Footage of Young Holocaust Survivors departing from Prague Airport to Crosby-on-Eden Aerodrome, August 1945 http://www.iwm.org.uk/history/rare-footage-of-young-holocaust-survivors-on-their-way-to-britain (excerpt) and http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/1060018234 (full length)
Holocaust survivors reunite with the woman who cared for them after the war (from The Washington Post)
Recollections of Jacky Young (né Yanofsky), one of the youngest Holocaust survivors, who lived at Weir Courtney for 6 months before being adopted: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/28/a1955928.shtml
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington DC https://www.ushmm.org/
The Wiener Library for the Study of the Holocaust & Genocide, London https://www.wienerlibrary.co.uk/
The Holocaust Survivors ’45 Aid Society http://45aid.org/