THE POWER OF GOOD
If something is not impossible, then there must be a way to do it.
Sir Nicholas Winton (1909-2015)
Soon after arriving home from New York I heard on the radio the news that Sir Nicholas Winton, the ‘British Schindler’, had died at the age of 106. Sir Nicholas is, in fact, one of the leading lights of the book Kathleen and I are preparing on West Hampstead. He was responsible for the rescue of 669 mostly Jewish children from German-occupied Czechoslovakia on the brink of WWII in an operation later known as the Czech Kindertransport. He was born in West Hampstead and grew up at ‘Stonecroft’, 5 Cleve Road, a house designed by Banister Fletcher (whose monument can be seen in Fortune Green Cemetery). The house had some twenty rooms and many German Jews sought temporary refuge there from 1937 onwards. It was young Nicholas’s first-hand experience of their plight that inspired him to do something to help refugees and particularly child refugees.
|Nicholas Winton’s childhood home in Cleve Road.
Photo by EP
In nearby Priory Road, Wellesley Aron spent part of his formative years; he rescued refugees fleeing the Holocaust, was a creator and teacher of courses on peace for schoolchildren, founder of Habonim, which became the largest Zionist Youth movement world-wide, and a founding member of the Arab/Jewish community of Neve Shalom.
Another West Hampsteadite, journalist Yvonne Mayer, worked with the largest influx of refugees in British history, the Basque children. West Hampstead also had a special school, the Sheriff Day Nursery in Sheriff Road, for children of families who had fled the Nazis. The principal was a Dr Lily Collinge who had a doctorate from Berlin and was herself a refugee.
One young refugee in NW6 who made a name for himself was the Austrian poet Erich Fried. He had been a child actor, the leading child actor in plays by Ferdinand Raimund. When the Anschluss occurred in 1938 he founded a small youth resistance group that distributed anti-fascist literature. His parents were arrested by the Gestapo for exporting currency and during the interrogation his father was fatally kicked in the stomach. Fried fled to London via Belgium and formed a self-help refugee group that brought seventy people to England before the war, including his mother. He took lodgings in an attic room at 67 Priory Road, West Hampstead, which he shared with another exile, Stefan Brill, and in which a group of young German and Austrian refugees regularly met in the spring of 1940.
He published his first volume of poetry in 1944. In the 1950s and 60s he worked as a political commentator for the BBC German Service and translated works by Shakespeare, T. S. Eliot and Dylan Thomas.