On the 14th August 1945, 300 Jewish child survivors of the Holocaust arrived at Crosby on Eden airfield to begin their long process of recovery from the deprivations and horrors that they had endured. They were part of a larger programme, funded by the Jewish organisation the Central British Fund. This made provision for 1000 child survivors of the Holocaust to travel to Britain, but only 732 could be found. This first group of 300 children would spend time near Lake Windermere in the Lake District as part of a programme of recovery and recuperation. Subsequent groups were sent to other parts of the UK.
‘The full quota of a thousand children, as permitted by the Home Office in the summer of 1945, was never met. This was despite the two separate flights in August and November 1945, two the following February, three groups of children by boat (the work of Rabbi Schonfeld), and a final boat journey in June.’
‘It is important to realise what the devastation of the Holocaust really meant,’ Ben Helfgott has commented. ‘Despite all of the efforts that were made, not a thousand children could be found.’ Martin Gilbert, The Boys p330 – 331.
These young people were some of the very few children from across Europe to have survived the Holocaust. Without exception each of them had endured unimaginable trauma and difficulties and most of them would find very few survivors from their wider families. They would become known as ‘The Boys’, a name that they adopted for themselves, even though there were some girls amongst them. Fewer of them were girls as survival for girls during the Holocaust was almost impossible.
Whilst the trauma and loss of their early years remained with them, many of ‘The Boys’ settled in the UK and went on to have productive and fulfilled lives, families and many children and grandchildren. A significant number of ‘The Boys’ remain active and committed to Holocaust education and we have had the pleasure of working closely with them.
This group of child Holocaust survivors will be referred to as ‘The Boys’ throughout these lesson materials. Whilst many of ‘The Boys’ came from Poland it is important to note that amongst them were children from a number of countries that had been controlled by the Nazis. These materials draw upon the seminal work of the historian Sir Martin Gilbert, ‘The Boys: Triumph Over Adversity’. The survivor testimony included in this work forms an integral part of each lesson and is drawn not just from those young people who would be sent to Windermere after the war, but also from those who would arrive in the UK in subsequent groups.