Holocaust survivor George Vulkan dies, aged 94

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Holocaust survivor George Vulkan dies, aged 94

Tributes to refugee from Nazi-occupied Austria who fled to Paris before settling in the UK

HET Portrait by Tanya Harris
HET Portrait by Tanya Harris

Holocaust survivor George Vulkan has died at his home in Harrow, aged 94. 

Born Hans Georg Vulkan in 1929 in Vienna, Austria, he lived with his parents, Marcel and Adrienne, and his maternal grandparents in an apartment in the 9th District.

After the Anschluss on 12 March 1938, George was forced to sit with the other Jewish boys at the back of the classroom and was forbidden from mixing with the non-Jewish children. Eventually he was expelled and sent to a Jewish school.

George and his friends were frequently attacked by members of the Hitler Youth. On several occasions this happened in front of the Austrian police, who ignored the incidents. The Jewish school was closed in mid-1938. The whole family then had to stay at home due to the various anti-Jewish restrictions enacted by the Nazis in Austria. All parks, playgrounds and cinemas were banned to Jews.

In September 1938, George was told that his family were going on holiday to France. He wasn’t allowed to take any toys except his teddy bear. They were unable to say goodbye to their relations, all of whom were later murdered by the Nazis. On the train and at the border the family’s luggage was searched by the police and some possessions were confiscated. The family then travelled on to Paris.

When they arrived they had no money and had to rely on the refugee committees in Paris to support them.

While in Paris, George’s father heard that people could travel to England if they could set up a business or were prepared to work in domestic service. George’s father and uncle decided that they would try to establish a business in England and George and his parents travelled there in February 1939.

His uncle went back to Austria to collect the rest of his family. He never returned.

In England, George went to school and started to learn English. After the war George studied physics at university and then did two years National Service in the Royal Signals. He spent most of his career with the Scientific Branch of the Greater London Council, including heading the Environmental Sciences Group.

He married his wife, Mary, in 1967. They had two sons, Daniel and Johnny, and three grandchildren. Mary died in February 2023.

The Holocaust Educational Trust said it was “deeply saddened at the passing of our dear friend Holocaust survivor George Vulkan BEM”.

It added: “Born Hans Georg Vulkan in Vienna in 1929, George had a happy childhood until The Anschluss of Austria in March 1938. He faced frequent antisemitism at the hands of his peers and adults in Vienna and was eventually forced to leave school. In September 1938, George’s family fled to the United Kingdom, via Paris. He went on to build a life here, completing two years of National Service and then working in environmental sciences.

“George gave many years to the trust’s Outreach Programme – committed to sharing his testimony with students and community groups across the United Kingdom. He was a kind, gentle and thoughtful man and we will miss him greatly. May his memory be a blessing”

Michael Newman, chief executive of the Association of Jewish Refugees, also expressed great sadness at the death of its “treasure member”.  He added: “George was an active member of the AJR who made an enormous contribution to our work by serving on a committee disbursing welfare assistance to his fellow refugees and survivors.

“We feel privileged that George was our first member to share his testimony as part of our My Story project, which tells the life stories of Jewish refugees and Holocaust survivors through the production of individual life story books. Visit ajrmystory.org.uk to download his full story.”

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