Page last updated at 03:38 GMT, Monday, 5 April 2010 04:38 UK

The orphans who survived the Nazi camps

Three hundred Jewish orphans who survived the horrors of Nazi concentration camps and death marches during World War II were sent to live in the UK's Lake District. Two of them have spoken to the BBC about their experiences.

Jack Aizenberg
Jack Aizenberg was just 11 when his childhood choice saved his life

Jack Aizenberg was 11 when a split decision saved his life but separated him from his family forever.

"My father says to me, 'Jack, if we go together we may all die together'.

"He had already an idea of what was happening.

"I didn't understand nothing, all I understood was that there was danger and I was a little bit excited to go with my cousins, with my uncles into hiding.

"And I say, 'I'm going into hiding, Dad'.

"I go left. They go right."

It was 1942 when, aged 11, Jack Aizenberg chose to leave his parents before the Nazis arrived in Staszow, Poland, never to see them again.

Many Jews in Jack's village were shot.

The rest were marched to their deaths in a concentration camp.

New homes

When World War II ended in 1945, many of the Jewish adults and children still held in camps were eventually able to make their way home and begin rebuilding their lives.

Jewish people are processed on arrival at Auschwitz
Six million Jewish people were killed in the Holocaust

But hundreds of the orphans who had survived had no home to return to.

When the Red Cross appealed to the Allies, British Jews wanted to help survivors of the Holocaust.

They persuaded the British government to offer homes to 1,000 children under the age of 16.

The first 300 orphans , including Jack Aizenberg and Minia Munter, boarded the RAF's Stirling Squadron in August of that year, bound for the clean air of Windermere, in Cumbria.

It was thought rural areas were best for recuperation.

'Selected to die'

By pure luck, Minia Munter, one of 30 girls on the airlift, had managed to survive two selections for execution in Auschwitz.

Minia Munter

We never talked about concentration camp. We know what we've gone through, we were there
Minia Munter, Holocaust survivor

She had been deemed unfit for work by the notorious Dr Mengele, but each time the mass executions had been put off because the Nazis wanted to wait for more Jews to arrive to make up the numbers.

"They let us stand there for hours until already it was getting dusk and they opened the gate and they let us into go back to the block. They were not going to do the crematorium for a few girls," she said.

Eventually she managed to surreptitiously join the slave labourers, avoiding being selected to die for a third time.

When the Allies closed in on Germany, the Nazis began to move their labour force deeper into their territories, away from the frontline.

As the end of the war drew near Minia, like the other orphans, was forced to travel to a '"ghetto camp" in Czechoslovakia - Theresienstadt.

'Skin and bone'

By 1944 Jack Aizenberg had been caught by the Nazis and was forced to work in the shadow of Colditz castle, which had been converted into an ammunitions factory.

"Every morning they took you out and we were counted by a Nazi officer, big hat with a swastika, big fur coat and - this I won't forget - sneering at us.

"I'm standing there in pyjamas - stripey suit - that's all, no underwear, no pullover, bare-footed on ice. If I was a sick man, or old, I would have been gone."

As the Allies drew nearer, Jack was forced to undertake a brutal march of more than 100 miles to Theresienstadt.

By then he was severely malnourished.

"I had no stomach, just skin and bone. I think another day I would have been dead. I knew I was dying and I didn't care."

Then in May 1945 - just a few weeks after arriving at the camp - came the news that the war in Europe was over.

'A beautiful day'

When Theresienstadt was liberated by the Russians, Minia and Jack remained in the camp, which the Red Cross had taken over, and were considered for the move to England.

Windermere
After a few months, the orphans left for new homes

But the British did not want to let Minia on the plane to Britain because she had contracted TB.

However a friendly doctor, a fellow survivor of the camps, falsified the paperwork declaring her fit for travel.

She said she would always remember her arrival in England: "When I got up and came out, you know, we've never seen anything like that, those houses with the front gardens and back gardens so beautifully kept.

"There is this gentleman in the front garden and he greets me, 'Good morning, what a beautiful day.' And it was a beautiful day - it was wonderful."

Recuperation

On the banks of Windermere, a local community of Jewish refugees prepared to care for the young survivors on a former housing estate built for workers of a wartime aircraft factory.

The 300 youngsters arrived in England to live at the disused factory site staffed by volunteers.

The new arrivals had suffered such hunger during the war that their survival instincts would take over and at meal times huge quantities of bread would disappear into children's mouths and pockets.

Minia remembered: "They were saying, 'We are hungry, we are hungry,' all the time. 'We want to eat.'

"And whenever they brought the bread, there was never enough. The boys were putting it in their jackets. They thought they would never get any bread any more."

Jack and the others could not wait to explore their new home:

"When we arrived in Windermere, the first things that were issued to us were underwear, vests and underpants, but the shirts, suits didn't come. They came a day or two later.

"We're sitting in these chalets waiting to be able to go out. And it's raining next day.

We're getting impatient and we walk out in our underwear in the rain and the people look at us like, 'What kind of fellows are they, walking in the rain in their underwear?!'"

The orphans remained in Windermere for about six months before being dispersed to hostels in cities around Britain.

Eventually they left to begin the task of building new lives, either in the UK or in yet another foreign country.

But they all found it hard to talk about what they went through.

"We never talked about concentration camp," Minia said.

"We know what we've gone through, we've been through, we were there, you understand what I mean.

"But we would talk about who we lost - family."

The Orphans Who Survived The Concentration Camps will be broadcast on Monday 5 April, on BBC One at 2215 BST and will be available on the BBC iPlayer.



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