Daughter retraces the fortunate journey that saved her father from the Holocaust
By Brenda Lewis
|Henry Lewis with daughter Brenda|
My father, Henry Lewis, born Heinz Laufer, was more fortunate than most people. From a Czech Jewish family, he was, at age 14, one of the lucky children sent to safety in England in 1939 just before the outbreak of the Second World War.
The person responsible was a 29-year-old London stockbroker named Nicholas Winton. Understanding the urgency, Winton organized an effort to evacuate, and relocate to England, as many Jewish children as possible before the Nazis nvaded Czechoslovakia. He managed to save the lives of 669 children, including my father. They eventually became known as Winton Kinder.
The rest of my father’s family did not fare so well. His mother succumbed to tuberculosis at the concentration camp in Terezin, the holding camp for Czech Jews en route to Auschwitz, where both his father and brother perished at the hands of the Nazis.
Despite this unimaginable tragedy, my father worked past his grief, going on to live a life of gratitude, with a commitment to teaching the human rights lessons of the Holocaust. Both he and my mother were very active in organizations for survivors, such as himself, of the Kindertransport movement.
A year ago, I learned of plans for a re-enactment of the Winton train journey – which saved my father and the 668 others – that would mark the 70th anniversary of what was to have been the final Kindertransport trip from Prague in September 1939; a trip that never took place because of the war’s outbreak when the Nazis invaded Poland on September 1 that year.
|The Winton Train pulls into Liverpool Station in London, September 4, completing a four-day commemorative journey from Prague.|
I was determined to participate in this historical train and ferry trip, which was being created for the purposes of thanking Sir Nicholas Winton, now 100, and of inspiring contemporary and future generations to know that we can each make a difference in our world. It was also a way for me to honour my father – who passed away in December 2007, after a rich, full life of almost 84 years – and our family’s memory.
Two months ago, from September 1 to 4, my dream became a reality. So much happened over those four days that I am still reflecting back with wonder. Early the first morning, a group of 22 actual Winton Kinder, and dozens of us from “the next generation or two” representing our parents and grandparents, arrived at the train station in Prague. One of my two most emotional moments hit suddenly, as I heard that first high and lonesome train whistle and saw a billowy puff of steam from the train dissolving into the sky.
By day’s end, we were in Nuremberg, Germany. All along the way, it was so touching to see people lining railroad crossings, waving at us as we passed. They brought their children to meet us when we pulled into each train station where fire engines refilled the train engine’s water supply. The children’s presence was very symbolic.
On the second day, we spent two hours winding along parallel to the stunning castle-lined Rhine River en route to Cologne. I continued to meet many survivors and their families, as I believe that is what Dad would have done. They had many fascinating stories to tell. My father would have looked for potential connections from their shared past. I felt that the best way I could represent him was by being his ambassador – as well as by singing a few jazz numbers with our traveling “1930s band” – also a highlight!
On the evening of the third day, we boarded a huge ferry at the Hook of Holland and crossed overnight to Harwich, England. A final steam train chugged us off to Liverpool Station, London where we were met by Sir Nicholas Winton.
The survivors disembarked right away, to be the first to meet Sir Nicholas.
|Brenda meeting Sir Nicholas|
From the corner of my eye, I spotted this dear, humble man and was overcome by emotion for the final time on this journey. A few minutes later, I at last had the chance to thank him for saving my father’s life – and for making possible the lives of my siblings, my niece and me. I now know how gratitude truly feels.
Visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winton_Train for more information about the Winton Train
This article first appeared in the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin, Nov 2 2009 (p 17)
The documentary "Nicky's Family," presented in commemoration of Holocaust Remembrance Day, plays Sunday April 27th at 2pm and Monday April 28th at 6:30.