On the most British of occasions, a Dutch woman who feels completely at ease sits next to a long table adorned with Union Jack napkins and teacups.
Channa Clein, 83, is a contemporary of the Queen, like so many who joined her today for a very special anniversary celebration in honor of Her Majesty.
As equals to the queen, they wanted to celebrate heartily under garlands of flowers. But this party was special because, organized by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, of which Her Majesty was a founding patron, it was also a thank you from them to their empire — to which, many believe, they owe their lives and those of their own children and Grandson; a future generation that may never have existed.
The inseparable thread that connected Channa and many of her table companions is the fact that they are all survivors of the Holocaust.
And also a few younger survivors of later genocides, from distant countries like Rwanda and Bosnia.
Ian Vogler / Daily Mirror)
Under Her Majesty’s eyes, they have all found refuge and welcome in the United Kingdom with losses and dark memories.
They all rebuilt their lives under their rule, which for Holocaust survivors almost entirely encompasses their journey from Nazi genocide to their twilight years. Like them, they have lived long lives – but against hideous odds.
She is one of the few remaining witnesses to the crimes that could so easily have ended these lives.
“The Queen survived the war, she witnessed what happened,” Channa explained.
“This is my country now and I am very grateful to this country for giving me such a wonderful welcome.”
It is in the UK that she finally met her husband and had two children. One, Channa’s daughter Louisa, 42, by her side yesterday, is embedded in British culture as an actress who became a household name as Maya Stepney on ITV’s Emmerdale.
A few seats down, Ivor Perl, 90, repeated her words after clapping enthusiastically for the arrival of his tea and scones.
He was 12 when he was taken to Auschwitz, where he lost his parents and six siblings. He arrived in Britain as a refugee in 1945 with little more than his shirt on his back. Now he has the BEM.
“I thought I was in heaven,” he recalls. “I was treated like a human again.
Ian Vogler / Daily Mirror)
“The Queen stands for openness, compassion, a society of togetherness. This is very important for survivors.”
Vera Schaufeld, 92, who arrived on the Kindertransport at the age of nine when she was looking for her seat, made a similar statement. “We’re so glad we could come, we all managed to have a good life here,” she added.
Stories of terror, courage and hope abound in this room.
Like so many here, Channa stuck to her details for many years, as did her own parents.
But it’s an amazing story of survival through risk and sacrifice.
She is only here today because her parents, Hein and Toussie Salononson, who lived in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam, abandoned both the then three-year-old Channa and her little sister Ly to save their lives and sent them to non-Jewish foster parents who were complete strangers but risked their own safety to take them in.
They also split, Hein remaining completely hidden while Toussie worked covertly in the resistance.
Toussie also made sure that her own parents managed to successfully hide out on a farm in the countryside.
“My parents were heroes,” said Channa, unable to speak. “It must have been very traumatic for her to be separated from us and each other.”
She simply added: “We were lucky.”
She cannot speak directly of the survivors’ guilt, but Louisa uses the words.
Toussie’s sister Els, a dancer, could not hide and was murdered in a death camp at the age of 39 on March 31, 1943.
“My grandparents were heartbroken,” Channa recalled of their post-war reunion. “When we came back, the hard work of building a life began; afterwards, with all the horrible memories.”
As a three-year-old, Channa only has snapshots of her separation from her parents and sister. But they are deeply etched.
When her mother, an actress, and father, an architect, made the decision in 1942 to abandon their children by using underground networks and charities to find foster parents, she was initially placed in a children’s home.
“I was so homesick that I didn’t want to eat anything,” she recalls. Her extreme reaction to her parents’ separation saved her life.
“They took me away from there,” she said. “The next day the house was bombed.”
Even today she is too distraught to say more about her fateful escape.
She remembers meeting her foster parents who had children of a similar age and lived elsewhere in the Netherlands.
BBC/Wall to Wall Media Ltd/Mike Robinson)
She remembers her foster father who played the violin and happily played with her children.
She settled down fairly quickly and rarely missed her parents. Her mother secretly visited her once or twice and brought clothes with her.
“I remember someone came, someone glamorous and nice. But for a three-year-old, your perception of a mother is someone who cares. It was traumatic for her, but not for me.”
Channa’s name has been changed, although she’s not sure what story was told about her origins. Once it seems to have been close.
“I eventually heard that they had to take me out of the house for a while,” she said.
While her little sister lived elsewhere with another couple, Hein, who had striking Jewish features, hid.
“He was lucky that he survived,” she said. “He hardly went outside.”
Meanwhile, Toussie joined the resistance by accepting false papers.
“She helped soldiers, mainly Americans, who were stranded in Holland, shot down or captured, get out of the country,” Channa recalls. “She saved lives.”
Toussie said little about it, although, tellingly, she always kept a certificate signed by President Eisenhower on her kitchen wall to thank her.
“After giving away her kids and separating from her husband, she felt like she was going down in a fight,” Louisa said. “I’m so proud, they weren’t passive victims, they were fighters.”
When liberation came and they picked her up in 1945, reconnecting with their children wasn’t a fairytale reunion.
“I remember we had to take a boat to go back to Amsterdam,” Channa recalled the day she was picked up. “I wanted to go back to my foster parents.”
Broken as they were, she added, “It’s the wonderful thing about the human spirit, you recover and look forward to new things.”
The family recreated their life in Amsterdam, where Channa stayed until she was 30, when she moved to the UK to work as a violinist.
The fact that she was admitted here, that she was able to heal here, means everything.
Ian Vogler / Daily Mirror)
So did the parents of Robert Voss Esq CBE, Her Majesty’s Lord Lieutenant of Hertfordshire, who took a seat next to the survivors.
He is Jewish and his own parents were refugees who came here after losing 60 relatives in the Holocaust.
He is here to represent the Queen and thanks her for leading the diverse country that Britain is today.
But then he passes on her heartfelt thanks to the survivors. Her Majesty wants them to know that she owes them something in return. For the diversity, rich cultures and hard work they brought with them.
“Thank you for what you have brought to this country,” he said, raising a glass.
Any survivor stands ready to join him.
With thanks to the Holocaust Memorial Day Trustthe charity that promotes and supports Holocaust Remembrance Day in the UK
https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/holocaust-survivors-who-sought-refuge-27055886 Holocaust survivors who took refuge in Britain gather to celebrate the Queen's Jubilee