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13 November 2014

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You are in: Berkshire > Faith > Czech by birth, Jewish by race but British by choice

Holocasut Evacuee Vera Gissing.

Holocasut Evacuee Vera Gissing.

Czech by birth, Jewish by race but British by choice

A Berkshire resident has been revealing how the memories of evacuation form Germany just months before the start of World War II still live with her today and are just as pertinent seventy years on.

Seventy years ago this week, Parliament made a vital decision that probably saved the lives of ten-thousand Jewish children.

It was the start of the 'Kindertransport' which saw thousands of children travel by train and boat to the UK - in the nine months before the start of the Second World War.

At the same time, Sir Nicholas Winton, the man described as Berkshire's own Oscar Schindler, helped smuggle 668 Czech children out of Nazi Germany. 

Vera Gissing was one of those children forced to leave her parents and start a new life.
She was born in July 1928 in Prague and in June 1939, shortly before her 11th birthday, her parents arranged, with the help of Sir Nicholas, to get Vera and her sister, Eva, on a special train to Great Britain.


This lead to a crisis of identity for Vera in later years as she was caught between her Czech upbringing, her Jewish faith and her new life in Britain.

Jewish refugee children on the Kindertransport

Jewish refugee children on the Kindertra

For a long time I sort of worried, who am I? what am I? and it wasn't until years later when I married an English man, had a family and came back to Prague that I started to realise.

She lived in Liverpool and by the time she was repatriated to Prague in 1945 she already knew that both her parents had perished in the Holocaust.

Unable to settle in her homeland, she returned to England to make a home bringing with her the diaries she had kept for her parents throughout the war. They formed the basis of her book 'Pearls of Childhood', first published in 1988.

However it was a visit to the Jewish Museum years later in London that would really impact to Vera how fortunate she had been.

"I went into the Jewish Museum and there was a room dedicated to all the Jewish children who went to the concentration camp and didn't survive.

""I am Czech by birth, Jewish by race and British by choice.""

Holocaust Evacuee Vera Gissing

"On the walls there were snippets of drawings of the children, little poems and drawings that depicted all the things they lacked; beautiful sun, toys to play with, food to eat, all the things which they never had because 99% of them perished in the concentration camp."

It was these reminders of the atrocities committed that made that were the most poignant for Vera

"As I stood there I realised that had it not been for Sir Nicholas Wynton and had it not been for the brave hearts of our parents who let us go to an unknown country, to unknown people and not known if they would ever see us again.

"I knew then that had we not have gone to England that would have been the only thing that would be the only thing that would have remained of me and my sister."

These sentiments made Vera realise that she leads a cosmopolitan existence.

"I decided then that I am Czech by birth, Jewish by race and British by choice."

Join Clare Catford on BBC Radio Berkshire to hear more local people discussing their life and their faith every Sunday morning from 6am - 9am.

Read more about Vera Gissing here:

last updated: 25/11/2008 at 16:09
created: 25/11/2008

You are in: Berkshire > Faith > Czech by birth, Jewish by race but British by choice

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