UK Descendants of Jewish Refugees Seek to Open Doors to Ukrainians Fleeing Russian Invasion
Since the Russian invasion of their country began last month, millions of Ukrainians have fled their homes, becoming refugees abroad.
In the United Kingdom, more than 150,000 people have signed up as potential hosts for refugees within the framework of the British government’s “Homes for Ukraine” program.
The UK’s The Independent newspaper spoke with a number of Britons with Jewish ancestors who escaped pogroms in the late 19th and early 20th centuries or the Nazi regime during World War II who now want to help Ukrainian refugees in their time of need.
London resident Louise Kaye, a descendant of Jews who left Ukraine in the 1890s, said, “When the Ukraine war started, I suddenly thought of my grandfathers, and thought if I can help — a mother and child or a couple of children — I have the space to do that.”
“I could just imagine my great-grandparents being in exactly that situation and being absolutely terrified of having their houses burnt down and just knowing they had to flee to save their lives and protect their children,” she added.
Fellow Londoner Jimmy Strauss commented, “My parents were born in Germany and they were Jewish refugees from the Nazi system…I’m steeped in a refugee background. The community where I worship — at Belsize Square Synagogue — was founded by refugees and continues to use a number of their melodies.”
“Britain was very good to my family,” he added. “I’ve got room in this house and I feel, and my whole family feels, it is our duty to help these people. I cannot begin to imagine what they’re going through.”
Lesley Schatzberger of York noted, “I am the daughter of child refugees from Nazi Vienna. My father came on Kindertransport aged 12 in May 1939. His parents were due to travel on 9 September but war broke out on the 1st. They were taken to Auschwitz and died there.”
“My mum came with her family,” she added. “Both my parents came here with very little. My dad had a small suitcase, a typewriter and his piano accordion. He had to build his life from that.”
“I felt like I couldn’t not host,” Schatzberger said. “I wouldn’t be alive if my parents were not given sanctuary here. They lost everything, and it’s just unbelievable that this is happening again now. The lessons haven’t been learnt.”
Katherine Richards, from Hove, said, “My mother was a Jewish refugee and fled Austria at the age of five with my grandmother in 1938. They escaped to Holland on foot at nighttime. I know it would have been terrifying. At one point they were caught by the Nazis, but they got away and managed to catch the last boat to the UK.”
“I think about my grandmother every day now,” Richards added. “She’d be absolutely appalled. I think the very least we can do is open our border to those fleeing Ukraine.”
“My family history is not usually at the forefront of my mind, but seeing Ukrainian refugees on TV has really resonated with me,” she stated. “My mother and grandmother had to make a terrifying escape. Ukrainians are going to have similar stories to tell.”