My Escape from Hitler; Czech Refugee Vera Gissing Tells Glyn Mn Hughes How Welsh Warmth Saw Her through the Horrors of War T HE Second World War Is Surely the Greatest Human Horror Story in History

Daily Post (Liverpool, England), February 15, 2003 | Go to article overview

My Escape from Hitler; Czech Refugee Vera Gissing Tells Glyn Mn Hughes How Welsh Warmth Saw Her through the Horrors of War T HE Second World War Is Surely the Greatest Human Horror Story in History


Byline: Glyn Mn Hughes

Yet it retains a grim fascination. In the recent New Year's Honours list, the `British Schindler', Nicholas Winton, an English businessman, was knighted for humanitarian efforts in the war. It was thanks to him that children like Vera Gissing escaped her native Czechoslovakia, eventually arriving in Llanwrtyd Wells, Powys.

She was one of 6 69 Jewish children who escaped the Nazi regime in 1941. Vera, with sister Eva and fellow refugees, came first to Shropshire, moving later to Wales to attend the Czech school established in Llanwrtyd Wells to educate refugees.

``We first came to an old manor house in Whitchurch,'' she recalled. ``But as more children got to know about it, it burst at the seams! So we moved to Wales to an almost-new hotel. With the lake and the rivers and the mountains, it was absolutely beautiful.

``Most of us were around 12 when we came to England, yet nobody dreamed of what would happen to our parents. We were all totally unaware of what was happening. ``Transportation to the concentration camps only started in Czechoslovakia at the end of 1941 and, as there was no news, we were hoping our parents were still at home.

``It was the loving families who took us in that helped us all - and it was the start of a complete love affair with Wales.''

When Vera left her parents, she was never to see them again. Her father was imprisoned at the infamous Terezin camp, tortured and eventually shot by the Gestapo.

Her mother survived the horrors of Bergen-Belsen but died from typhus two days after the liberation of her country and a matter of weeks before Vera returned home.

Vera also remembers meeting the Czech president at a concert in Liverpool. ``I'd written to him,'' she said, ``pouring out my heart about how much I missed my parents and how I missed being able to speak Czech. I begged to be taken to the concert and, at the interval, I marched up to his box and asked to see him. And I did! He said he remembered my letter and asked if I was happy with my new family. I said I was, but would like to go to school with my Czech friends. Within a couple of weeks, he had sorted out a place for me at the school.''

Half a century on, Vera and fellow pupils make a return trip to Powys, as well as to Prague and to Terezin where she looks back to the selfless sacrifice of her parents, whose courageous actions allowed their two daughters to survive the war.

``When I first went back after the war,'' she said, ``I went to where we had lived and there were other people living in the flat. …

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