FROM AUSCHWITZ TO AMBLESIDE

Earlier in the summer OH (other half) and I were on vacation in Windermere, in the Lake District.

We saw a sign which aroused our curiosity. It read, “From Auschwitz to Ambleside”. We discovered that an exhibition was being held at Windermere library which concerned the Windermere Boys, a group of Jewish children who were brought to Windermere in 1945. Unfortunately for us, the exhibition was not open for more tours until the following week.

Having seen the documentary on TV, we were very keen to see this exhibition but we were leaving Windermere the next day. I sent an email to the museum asking if there was any possibility of our seeing it.  We did not require a tour, I wrote, but could wander around on our own. To my surprise I received a reply shortly afterwards saying that the museum could be opened up for us at 11am the following day.

Those of you who saw the TV documentary, The Windermere Boys and the follow up documentary where the survivors, now adults, were interviewed, will know that 300 Jewish children who had miraculously survived concentration camps, were brought to Windermere in 1945.

The following morning, an unassuming man met us on the doorstep of the museum and let us in.  He spoke knowledgeably about the exhibition and then left us to wander round on our own.

There were photographs of “the boys” – although some of them were girls! News clippings from the time told how the children had been housed on what had been the site of aircraft workers’ homes – the Calgarth Estate. They were looked after by a Rabbi, a doctor, nurses, teachers and child welfare officers. The plan was to eventually find them permanent homes as none of their parents could be traced and were presumed dead.

It was only later on our way home, when reading a pamphlet we had bought at the exhibition, that we realised that the unassuming man who had kindly opened up the library for us was none other than Trevor Avery, the man who had been the impetus behind the exhibition and both TV documentaries.

It all began in 2005 when he was at an exhibition concerning the factory where the Short Sunderland “Flying Boat”, the largest aircraft of its time, had been built. There was a photo of the Calgarth Estate, where the workers had been housed, on display.  Trevor Avery happened to hear a chance remark, “Of course, you know, this is where the children from Auschwitz came ….”

Other than the locals, no one had known about this as it had been kept out of the press at the time. Avery made contact with the Jewish children who had been brought to the Lake District and talked to members of the local community who remembered them. He then set about documenting these stories and was instrumental in founding the Lake District Holocaust Project. The survivors still return to the Lake District for reunions and several of them have shared their experiences of the Holocaust with local schoolchildren.

In 2016 Avery was awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM) for Services to Heritage in the Lake District. Without his painstaking research and inspirational work in reuniting the Windermere children, none of us would ever have known their remarkable story. We were privileged to meet him.

The next day, moved by what I had seen and learnt, I wrote this poem:

The Children of Windermere

Do you know the story of Windermere?

If you would listen, come and hear

How love and kindness can conquer fear.

300 children in 45

All of them lucky to be alive

They’d witnessed terror, murder and hate

And were given refuge on the Calgarth Estate

A beautiful place, tranquil and calm

Was the setting for those

Who had suffered such harm.

Windermere, Windermere

If you would listen, come and hear

How love and kindness can conquer fear.

Some of them were as young as three

How they survived just baffles me

What they only suffered, what they’d only seen

Can’t be imagined, it’s far too obscene.

The Windermere children were all united

Hoping one day to be reunited

With siblings, parents and all they loved dear

And meanwhile they lived in Windermere.

Windermere, Windermere

If you would listen, come and hear

How love and kindness can conquer fear.

Here they were safe to run free and play

Escaping the hell they’d left far away.

They were nurtured, comforted, schooled and fed

And began to heal from the lives they’d led.

The nightmares they had, began to recede

They were children again

From that life they’d been freed.

Windermere, Windermere

If you would listen, come and hear

How love and kindness can conquer fear.

By the side of the Lakes

They flourished and grew

Began to plan for a future too

They learned to live

And live without fear

The 300 children of Windermere.

Those children grew up

And moved away

Had children of their own one day

Yet they still tell their story today.

Yes, the children grew up

And made lives of their own

But they never forgot their Windermere home.

Windermere, Windermere

If you would listen, come and hear

How love and kindness can conquer fear.

Written after a visit to the “From Auschwitz to Ambleside”

Exhibition at the Windermere Museum

24/7/2021

© Andrea Neidle, My Life in Poems

4 thoughts on “FROM AUSCHWITZ TO AMBLESIDE

  1. Hi Andrea, What a beautiful article and very moving poem. We have passed it on to our daughters and also to our friend who is related to one of the 3 year old children, as we told you. You will remember that our eldest daughter and family visited the exhibition shortly after you and was also conducted around by Trevor Avery. Have a good weekend. Love, Barbara and Irvine.

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    Liked by 1 person

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