Duchess of Cornwall to survivors: I’m so proud how UK looked after you

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Duchess of Cornwall to survivors: I’m so proud how UK looked after you

Justin Cohen is the News Editor at the Jewish News

Duchess of Cornwall at Jewish Care’s Holocaust Survivors Centre for her first solo visit in the community

The Duchess of Cornwall has spoken of her pride at how survivors of the Holocaust and refugees from the Nazis have been looked after by Britain after their arrival in this country.

Her Royal Highness met around 40 survivors who found refuge in the UK during after the War during a visit to the Holocaust Survivors Centre – her first solo engagement in the Jewish community. She shook hands with every one of them as she  attentively asked about their experiences as youngsters and the impact of their work in giving testimony around the country.

She stressed the importance of passing on the memory of the darkest era in recent history “to my generation and to the next generation”, adding: “I just hope these stories will continue so people know just how incredible you’ve all been. I’m also very proud this country has looked after you so well.”

Jewish Care President Lord Levy guided the Duchess around nine tables where many of those who see the Centre as a lifeline waited to greet the special visitor.  The Royal immediately recognised Henrietta Kelly, who spent 20 months in Bergen Belsen from the age of six, and who personally invited the Duchess to the HSC after sitting next to her at last year’s national commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, which she attended with Prince Charles.

“She remembered me and another lady on my table – and even recalled what I’d told her that my parents didn’t recognise each other when they met on the street in Paris after the War,” she told the Jewish News. “She really is so interested and chatty and made sure everybody had a chance to speak. I could never have imagined in a million years that I would meet a member of the Royal Family.” Asked where she would invite the Duchess next now they have exchanged a number of letters, Kelly joked: “I think it’s her turn to invite us next.”

Moving to the next table, the Duchess asked nonagenarian 94-year-old Freddie Knoller how he looks so young. “Because I’m an eternal optimist,” he replied, before speaking about the survivors’ exhaustive efforts to tell their stories to schoolchildren. She even asked if he has a DVD of a recent BBC programme about his experiences. “She’s an amazing women, so easy to talk to . She was asking lots of questions and I told her the Centre is like our second home where the survivors can come together.”

Camilla praised the “wonderful” Centre, the only one of its kind in the country where survivors have come together to socialise and receive practical and emotional support for more than two decades. The adjoining Shalvata facility also offers the support to people who have survived more recent conflicts. “Everything seems to happen here,” she said at one point after hearing of the range of activities on offer. 

As well as hearing the survivors’ stories and speaking about her own father’s experience as a prisoner of war, there were plenty of less serious moments: there was a slightly surreal discussion about soup with one Romanian-born survivor, for one, and delighting another nonagenarian by saying she thought she was “around 70”. There was also no shortage of messages she was asked to relay back to her husband Prince Charles, whose long-time support for Kindertransport refugees and Shoah remembrance has taken him to many such events in recent years. When asked about her mother-in-law, the Duchess confirmed the Queen was doing “very well” and “looking forward” to her upcoming 90th birthday.

Jewish Care President Lord Levy said: “The fact we had such a senior member of the Royal Family visit the Centre is an indication of how the Royal Family understand and relate to all the different communities, particularly the Jewish community.

“Everybody at the Centre had a day that will live long in the memory. One survivor said to me that the visit ‘was yet another stage in the healing process for me’.”

Dame Gail Ronson, the charity’s vice-chair, dedicated a presentation of flowers to her to the late survivor Bettine Le Beau, paying tribute to her “continental chutzpah” and saying she loved chatting with her at the HSC.

Speaking to the survivors, she added: “The Duchess’ had the best time ever and looking at you all why wouldn’t she.”

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